Whitestem Blazingstar

The Whitestem Blazingstar, which flourishes on dry, sandy soils in the desert valleys, foothills, gravel fans, washes, and scrub to pinyon/juniper woodlands, goes by a number of names, such as the White-stemmed Mentzelia, Mentzelia albicaulis, the Acrolasia albicaulis, Acrolasia gracilis, Mentzelia albicaulis var. albicaulis, Mentzelia albicaulis var. ctenophora, Mentzelia albicaulis var. gracilis, Mentzelia albicaulis var. tenerrima, Mentzelia gracilis, Mentzelia mojavensis, Trachyphytum gracile. It is of the family Loasaceae.
The whitestem blazingstar is an annual wildflower with simple to freely branched stems from two-and-a-half to 16.5 inches long. The stem is often glabrous below but becomes white and shining above. The hairs are often minutely barbed. The leaves measure from less than an inch to four inches long with the basal leaves typically linear to lanceolate in shape with variously fully-lobed, shallowly few-lobed to deeply pinnatifid margins narrowing gradually to the petioles. The stem leaves are linear to lanceolate with subentire to irregularly lobed margins.
The inflorescence consists of open, few-flowered cymes at the ends of the branches. The calyx is one-third inch to four-fifths of an inch long with short, triangular lobes from four-fifths of an inch to an inch-and-three-fifths inch long. The yellow petals are four-fifths of an inch to two-and-two-fifths of an inch long and often copper-colored at their base. The 15-35 stamens are shorter than the petals. The capsules are one-twelfth-of an inch to one-eighth of an inch long, covered with firm, stiff hairs and are narrowed toward the base.
Most often the whitestem blazing Star grows erect. An annual herb, the yellow flower has five shiny yellow petals. The fruit is a narrow, straight or curving utricle two-fifths of an inch to one-inch-and-a-fifth in length. It contains many angular seeds covered in tiny bumps.
In San Bernardino County, they are plentiful in the area around Barstow, Daggett, north of Barstow on the Fort Irwin Military Reservation, and in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Their flowering time runs from March to July. The Whitestem Blazingstar is edible and has medicinal uses.
The orange seed is put in a hot frying pan and when the seed turns a darker color warm water is added and stirred until it forms a gravy. The oily seed is parched and ground into a meal and then mixed with water to make a mush. The seed meal can be kneaded into a seed butter and used as a spread on bread. The minute seeds are much used for food by several native North American Indian tribes.
A poultice of the crushed, soaked seeds has been applied to burns and also to relieve toothache pain.

Panel Recommends Using $33M To Start Gold Line Extension To Montclair

(February 19) The effort to extend Los Angeles County’s light rail system into San Bernardino County lurched forward this week with a key committee’s request that $33 million in available sales-tax funds be earmarked to begin formal planning and the bid process for the next logical extension of the line eastward, a 12.3-mile span from Azusa to Montclair.
The Gold Line is a 19.7-mile  light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, work toward which began in 1998 with the creation of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority. The Metro Gold Line Extension Construction Authority was founded with the intention of resuming  design, contracting and construction of the Los Angeles to Pasadena rail line  formerly referred to as the Pasadena Blue Line after the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority had  suspended work on it that same year.
The newly formed Construction Authority completed the Los Angeles to Pasadena segment, which served several locations including  Downtown Los Angeles,  Little Tokyo, Union Station, the Southwest Museum, Chinatown, and Old Town Pasadena, in 2003. Since that time, work has begun and is slated for completion in September on an 11.5 mile extension of the line from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border.
The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority board, consisting of Glendora City Councilman Doug Tessitor, Claremont City Councilman Sam Pedroz, Los Angeles city employee Marisol Rodriquez, Attorney Daniel M. Evans, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon , Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner, Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaar and California Department of Transportation District 7 Director Carrie Bowen, is now pushing for the preparation of the next phase of the project, the  projected $1.18-billion Azusa-to-Montclair extension.
It is projected that some $33 million left over from the Pasadena to Azusa construction project will be available and the Metro Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority asked that the money be put to work immediately on planning and preconstruction preparations for the  next extension.
An Environmental Impact Report for the  Azusa-to-Montclair phase has already been completed.
While the extension construction authority board has put a high priority on the Azusa-to-Montclair  extension, the project fits within a context of a much larger urban transportation complex, and other governmental entities and authorities do not put the same priority on the project.  And while there is considerable enthusiasm for the project in Montclair and Ontario, support for the project elsewhere in the local area is more tepid. Ironically, Los Angeles County municipal and transportation officials are stronger promoters of the Azusa-to-Montclair extension, on balance, than their San Bernardino County counterparts, even though the project will further tie-in the interior county to one of the most dynamic metropolitan areas in the world.
The Gold Line is one of six in the Los Angeles Metro Rail system. Though that system has competing funding priorities, the firm establishment of the other components of the system makes eastward expansion a desirable outcome. Eliminating the flow of vehicular traffic into Los Angeles would be of benefit to Angelinos, who now must live in a congested environment.
According to the environmental impact study already completed for the Azusa-to-Montclair extension, some 17,800 passengers would use the train daily, reflecting a like decline in the number of vehicles on the 210 and 10 freeways.  The decline in vehicular traffic would increase speeds on the freeways, reduce commuting time and reduce exhaust emissions.
Under tentative projections for the budgeting of the Azusa-to-Montclair extension,  San Bernardino County, through its transportation agency, SANBAG (an acronym for San Bernardino Associated Governments), is being asked to put up $55 million of the total $1.18 billion cost, which is roughly 4.64 percent of the price involved.
But SANBAG officials are not wholeheartedly in favor of utilizing money that agency it has to play with. That money is derived from a countywide half cent sales tax collected for augmenting county transportation systems.
When Montclair and Ontario officials pushed SANBAG in 2013 to undertake studies on the extension, SANBAG, which as a whole considers the extension of the Mettrolink commuter line to Redlands and the double-tracking of the Metrolink lines near Upland, Claremont, and Fontana to be more important rail projects than the Gold Line, balked.
Ontario officials see the Gold Line extension as an important component in improving transportation options to compliment Ontario International Airport. It is anticipated that after the extension of the Gold Line to Montclair is completed, Ontario will push for an extension from the Montclair station south and further east, with a stop at or near the airport.
The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority’s recommendation for utilizing the $33 million toward facilitating the Azusa-to-Montclair extension comes just prior to the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments making its own decision with regard to its prioritization of rail transportation projects on the drawing board in central and east Los Angeles County, including the Azusa-to-Montclair extension, another rails system extension along the 60 Freeway to South El Monte,  one along Washington Boulevard to Whittier and a side extension of the Gold Line from Atlantic Station in East Los Angeles.
Even assuming the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments gives top second priority to the Azusa-to-Foothill extension, the project will still need to garner priority support from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which must apportion its funding and is simultaneously weighing the benefits of other projects on the west side of Los Angeles, including the extension of the Purple Line subway beneath Wilshire Boulevard connecting to Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood.
Should the Azusa-to-Montclair extension receive adequate funding from both Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, construction could begin in 2017 and be completed by 2023.

Colton Hires Smith As City Manager On Three-Year Contract

Colton has elevated Bill Smith, that city’s community services  director for the last eleven years, to city manager.
Smith was narrowly approved as the lead staff member in the blue collar town of 52,154, with council members Deirdre Bennett, Frank Navarro, David Toro and Luis Gonzalez in favor of his promotion and   councilwoman Summer Zamora Jorrin, Mayor Richard DeLaRosa and Councilman Isaac Suchil dissenting
He replaces interim city manager Josefina Kenline, who has held the position since December, when she was given the temporary assignment, having succeeded a series of fill-in city managers consisting of the city’s department heads who were drafted to the fill-in roll after former city manager Stephen Compton was forced out.
Smith was given the position after agreeing to a contract that specifies him as an “at-will” employee who can be fired with or without cause on a vote of at least five of the council’s seven members. If fired without cause, he is to receive a severance buyout equal to twelve full months of his $186,000 annual salary.
In addition to his salary, he is to receive the same medical and retirement benefits provided to members of the city’s administrative staff.
Several just causes for his removal as city manager are specified, including conviction of a crime, failing to follow a directive of the city council, abuse of non-prescription drugs or alcohol materially affecting his performance, repeated and protracted absences, and gross misconduct that adversely impacts the reputation of the community or impacts city operations.
In assuming the city manager’s position, Smith inherits an unresolved issue pertaining to inadequate oversight of revenue coming into the city.
Among these are the city’s developer impact fees.
Prior to his leaving the city, Compton sought to get a fix on whether developer impact fees were in fact being collected in compliance with the city’s ordinance and AB 1600, which defines developer impact fees as “a monetary exaction other than a tax or special assessment that is charged by a local governmental agency to an applicant in connection with approval of a development project for the purpose of defraying all or a portion of the cost of public facilities related to the development project.”
What is unclear is whether Colton has been collecting those fees and whether they have been properly placed into sequestered accounts to prevent the money from being used for any purposes not consisted with AB 1600 and Government Code § 66000.
If the city has not been abiding by the laws relating to the collection and use of developer impact fees, a developer who has paid them could file a claim against the city for the return of the fees paid.
Compton ordered an audit of the fees, but that audit was not completed at the time he left and there has been no indication that further progress toward completing the audit has been made.
The city council has not approved the  general fund audit for fiscal year 2013-14 ending on last June 30, which might have demonstrated whether development impact fees were being collected and how they have been deposited and disbursed. The city’s mitigation fee report as of June 30, 2014 defines what developer impact fees are and states only in the most generic of terms that the city is bound by  Government Code § 66000 and AB 1600 in collecting and utilizing them.
Based upon a review of the report by Fullerton-based Revenue & Cost Specialists, LLC, which was retained by the city last year to look into the matter, the city has not been managing the developer impact fees in accordance with California statutory requirements.
Nor is it clear whether the city has been collecting the fees in all cases where they could be collected and into which accounts those funds were deposited.

Chabot Wants 2016 Redux Vs. Aguilar

( February 19) Less than a week after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on February 12 identified local Congressman Pete Aguilar as one of the most vulnerable members of his party in the House of Representatives in the 2016 election, his Republican opponent last November announced he will run against him next year.
According to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,  congress members Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; Ami Bera,  Julia Brownley, Pete Aguilar, Raul Ruiz, and  Scott Peters of California; Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy of Florida; Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Rick Nolan of Minnesota, Brad Ashford of Nebraska, Annie Kuster of New Hampshire and Sean Patrick Maloney are ripe for a spirited challenge by the GOP and have accordingly been named to the committee’s Frontline Program.
Their Frontline status means the party is ready to give them early and special fundraising and organizational assistance toward their 2016 reelection. While Barack Obama retained the presidency in 2012, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives. Following the loss of control of the Senate by the Democrats in 2014, the Democrats are in the minority in both Houses of Congress during the last two years of Obama’s lame duck term in office.  The Democrats will need to pick up 30 net seats to win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2015, after having lost 13 seats in 2014.
In California last year, the Democrats bucked the national trend, having gained one seat that had formerly been held by a Republican, that being the seat Aguilar holds in the 31st Congressional District.
Despite his eventual win, Aguilar’s performance in 2014 was less than stellar. While registration in the 31st District favored Democrats by a full six percentage points, 39.8 percent to 33.8 percent, in the election Aguilar barely outdistanced the Republican in the race, Paul Chabot, 51,622 votes or 51.73 percent to 48,162 votes or 48.72 percent.
As of last weekend, 123,079 or 38.8 percent of the district’s 309,222 voters are Democrats and 104,471or 33.8 percent are Republicans. 66,646 of the district’s voters or, 21.6 percent, have expressed no party preference. American Independent, Green, Peace and Freedom, Libertarian and other party members account for 4.9 percent of the district’s voters.
On February 17 Chabot announced he will run for Congress in the 31st District again.
Republicans tend to turn out to vote in greater numbers generally than other party members.
Aguilar outspent Chabot significantly in 2014, which was a mid-term election. Greater election turnout is anticipated in 2016, which is a presidential election year.
In 2014, Chabot spent a significant amount of his money in securing the top spot in the June primary election, using a strategy in which he made hard and repeated attacks on fellow Republican Leslie Gooch and largely ignoring the one other Republican in the race, Ryan Downing, who had little name recognition. He made little reference to the four Democrats in the primary race, Aguilar, Joe Baca, Eloise Gomez-Reyes and Danny Tillman. Chabot finished first in the primary.
By announcing this early, Chabot is looking to get a jump on fundraising and ward off any other Republicans contemplating a run, thus being able to husband his resources for a bruising battle toe-to-toe with Aguilar in the November 2016 election.

Ex-City Manager Advocates Upland Find Middle Ground On Pot Initiative

(February 18) Former Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn has suggested that the Upland City Council seek a middle-ground compromise with the sponsors of a voter initiative calling for the city to allow three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in a commercial district on the city’s west side.
The initiative’s proponents gathered the signatures of more than 15 percent of the Upland’s registered voters, thus qualifying the initiative for a citywide vote. A question remains as to whether the city’s voters will approve the initiative as well as the timing of the vote. Dunn said the terms contained in the initiative were tailored to be beneficial to one of the initiative’s sponsors and are contrary to the best interests of  the city’s residents as a whole. He said the city had missed an earlier opportunity to temper the terms of the proposed initiative when city officials spurned an offer by the initiative proponents  to have  them participate in discussions relating to the initiative’s wording.
The city council, which saw its composition change by one member when Carol Timm replaced former councilman Brendan Brandt after the November  election in which Brandt did not run and incumbents Gino Filippi and Debbie Stone were reelected, was and remains on balance philosophically opposed to allowing medical marijuana to be marketed in Upland. The city’s zoning code does not permit medical marijuana dispensaries to operate legally anywhere within its 16.5 square mile city limits.
To enforce that ban, a past city council led by then-councilman Ken Willis authorized legal action, the cost of which would eventually total more than $500,000, against medical marijuana distributors who had set up shops in the city. The lion’s share of that effort was against one clinic owner in particular, Aaron Sandusky, the proprietor of G3 Holistics. The city had limited success on the civil front against Sandusky, obtaining a couple of rulings sustaining its zoning restrictions, which Sandusky’s lawyers consistently appealed. Ultimately, Sandusky’s operation was closed down, though not as a result of city’s legal efforts. Rather,  federal authorities prosecuted Sandusky criminally, gaining a conviction that resulted  in a  10-year sentence. Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs in waiting braved fate by opening clinics in the city. Having exhausted considerable financial resources against Sandusky, the city no longer had the will or funding to do battle with the new crop of Sandusky’s successors. By last fall, at least 12 dispensaries were operating in Upland.
Seeing opportunity, Randy Welty waded into this milieu. The owner/operator of the Tropical Lei strip club on Foothill at the west end of the city, Welty also owns the Toybox adult bookstore in town, the Hawaii Theatre in the City of Industry, Eye Candy Showgirls Theater in Chula Vista, three Spearmint Rhino bars, several adult bookstores and he was the owner of the Flesh Club on Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino before it was shut down amid charges of being a venue for prostitution activity. He also has an interest in at least 63 medical marijuana dispensaries. As a board member of the California Cannabis Coaltion, he collaborated with that organization’s president, Craig Beresh, to draft an initiative for Upland. That initiative called for applicants paying the city a $75,000 application processing/licensing fee and allowing three clinics to operate in the relatively confined zoning district in Upland north of Foothill Boulevard and south of Cable Airport, east of Monte Vista Avenue and west of Airport Drive. The Tropical Lei lies within this defined area, where Welty owns other property. Welty in September made an overture to the city council prior to starting the petition drive for that petition in October in which he requested city input. Others who were alerted to the pending petition drive for the initiative, including local attorney Marc Grossman and Dunn, endeavored to persuade city officials to take Welty up on his offer in an effort to shape the proposed initiative into one that would contain some level of protection for the city.
What ensued is not entirely clear. Either then-acting city manager Martin Lomeli and then-city attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow failed to bring Welty’s overtures to the city council’s attention or the council, opposed to the concept of permitting marijuana clinics to operate in the city, rejected the offer of such a dialogue. According to councilman Gino Filippi, a document relating to an early draft of the initiative was presented to the council during a closed session in September but no meaningful discussion of its implication was held. The issue was not raised publicly at that time.
Welty, Beresh and the California Cannabis Coalition carried out the petition drive between October and January, collecting  6,865 signatures on the initiative petitions, 5,736 of which were deemed by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters to be valid signatures of registered voters in Upland. Thus, the city is now faced with having to put the initiative before voters at a likely cost of $180,000. The city’s options appear limited. The only way the city can bypass the vote is to simply have the council pass the initiative as written. It could also call for the election, but draw up a competing ordinance that would involve different terms, and place that on the ballot at the same time.
Dunn is advocating that the city pursue this last option, making a comparison to the town of Yucca Valley. The Yucca Valley Town Council, like the Upland City Council, was opposed to permitting dispensaries within its town borders. But a group there, The Alliance 4 Safe Access, gathered the requisite number of signatures to force the initiative allowing two dispensaries in that municipality of 20,700 onto a ballot. Seeing the writing on the wall, town officials are now negotiating with the alliance to forge a compromise initiative that will either be placed before the voters to compete with the original initiative or which will simply be adopted by the town council in return for the alliance dropping its support for the initiative it has qualified, thereby dimming its chances of success when it is voted upon.
In an email dated February 11 sent to the entire city council as well as city manager Rod Butler and city attorney Richard Adams, Dunn wrote, “The town of Yucca Valley is currently going through the same thing as Upland whereby the voters of that town will be voting in 2015 on allowing two medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders. . While you can’t change the initiative as submitted, in an attempt for compromise, Yucca Valley actually sat down with the proponents in an attempt to craft a different initiative. It is not clear if the Yucca Valley council will vote in the proposed ordinance and thus bypass the time and expense of a special election or if they will send it to the voters.”
Dunn’s email continues, “Upland could consider something like this. This way Upland would have an ordinance that would be more palatable to the city should the voters approve it. Time is of the essence.”
This week, Dunn told the Sentinel, “When the proponents said they were working on getting an initiative, I tried to talk to the council, letting them know that they should at least get a strategy going. There was at least a chance they [the proponents] would be successful at getting enough signatures and there could have been negotiations at that time on getting something that would have been a little more favorable to the city than something that was radically in favor of the proponents, which is basically what they had. There was still a chance for changing it until the registrar of voters certified they had enough signatures to force the vote.  What I recommended to them in my email is now that they can’t do anything about  the proponents’ initiative, they could at least put a competing initiative together . They could even sit down with the proponents and negotiate a different version so the voters have two choices. If the initiative doesn’t pass, this is a moot point. But it could pass and I think it would be good to have an alternative.”
Within his own circle, Dunn said, “None of us is in favor of what the proponents have proposed.”
Part of the problem, Dunn said, is that some of those who are against the initiative see the process as a zero sum, all or nothing, either-or matter: either the initiative passes or it doesn’t.
In actuality, middle ground exists, Dunn said, which requires recognition of the reality that “31 states have decriminalized marijuana and three or four have legalized it for use by people over the age of 21. The strategy is you tax them [i.e., dispensaries,” he said.
In the case of a revamped alternative initiative, Dunn said, he thinks the city should “basically raise the costs. Instead of $75,000 for a permit, make it three times that – $225,000. Instead of  three dispensaries, make it maybe two or maybe just one.”
Those taking an absolute hard line against allowing clinics, Dunn said, are increasing the possibility the current initiative, which he called “flawed,” would pass. “People think nothing is going on in this town. The reality is, anyone who wants to find some pot illegally can do so in a half hour and if they want to do it legally and get a marijuana card [i.e., prescription], can get it in an hour. We have citizens who are refusing to acknowledge that, but it is a reality. There is nothing you can do with those people.
“This is a complicated argument,” Dunn continued. “There are three trajectories here: The public health issue, the economic issue and the enforcement issue. I think it is pretty clear that the war on drugs at the federal and state level has been a huge waste of money. It was the same at the city level. We wasted $600,000 in an effort going after Aaron Sandusky. He was closed down, eventually, but that didn’t stop the problem. The others that cropped up are not going to go away. The best approach, I think, is to regulate it and tax it. You can use all of the tax money to fund police oversight. We can devote a portion of that to patrolling for and enforcing laws against driving under the influence. We need to educate children to stay away from it.”
Dunn said that while many people are unable to accept that marijuana has legitimate medicinal properties, there are those in the medical community who hold a different view. “We have all heard people who are opposed to this say that there are a lot of perfectly healthy young people going into those clinics,” Dunn said. “But they don’t know what the circumstances are. Only a doctor can know. If the doctor is okay with it, then it is legal. If smoking pot relieves symptoms, whether it is the placebo effect or not, that is not a bad thing. California led the way with Proposition 215. It is time people recognize that and we move to the next level, which is taxation and regulation. It’s here to stay.”

CalPERS Spent $7 Million In Contesting Cities’ BK Filings

By Ed Mendel
(February 16) The California Public Retirement System (CalPERS) has paid two law firms more than $7 million in the Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino bankruptcies, even though a federal judge doubts that it has the legal standing to object to city pension cuts.
The high-priced legal representation, at top rates of $530 an hour, did not dissuade the judge in the Stockton case from ruling that CalPERS pensions can be cut in bankruptcy like other debt.
But Vallejo did not try to cut pensions, reportedly fearing a costly legal battle threatened by CalPERS. Stockton did not want to cut pensions, leaving the CalPERS issue to bondholders. And a San Bernardino deal with CalPERS protects pensions.
At times in the Stockton case, Judge Christopher Klein verbally jabbed the CalPERS attorney, Michael Gearin (once said to be “bellowing and pawing the sidelines”), as if he were an over-blown nuisance of questionable relevance.
The judge was explicit this month when, after an oral ruling in October, he issued a 54-page written ruling that confirms Stockton’s plan to exit bankruptcy and explains why, despite past CalPERS defensive measures, pensions can be cut in bankruptcy.
“As CalPERS does not guaranty payment of municipal pensions and has a connection with a municipality only if that municipality elects to contract with CalPERS to service its pensions, its standing to object to a municipal pension modification through chapter 9 (bankruptcy) appears to be lacking,” Klein wrote.
After a federal judge ruled in the Detroit bankruptcy that pensions can be cut, CalPERS joined unions in an appeal, arguing that it’s an “arm of the state” not a city-run plan like Detroit, and thus is protected under the federal bankruptcy law for cities.
Klein ruled that Stockton has contracts with unions and CalPERS. He said the “third leg” of the triangle, the relationship between CalPERS and active and retired employees, is not a contract but a “third-party beneficiary relationship.”
Contrary to the widespread “myth” that CalPERS is Stockton’s largest creditor, the judge said, it’s a “small-potatoes creditor” and “pass-through conduit” only owed administrative expenses. The big pension debt is owed to employees and retirees.
Nothing about state structure or procedure “necessitates” CalPERS, the judge said. State law does not require that city employees have pensions. And cities can choose other pension providers: private, county or the creation of their own system.
But once a city contracts with CalPERS two state laws sponsored by CalPERS, which do not apply to county or city retirement systems, make it difficult to leave the big state system.
One state law bars rejection of CalPERS contracts in bankruptcy. The judge said states cannot modify federal law and cited, among other things, a Texas law allowing a school bankruptcy if state bonds were protected, which was overturned by the courts.
The other state law places a lien on the property of a city that terminates its CalPERS contract in bankruptcy, second only to wages, that enforces immediate payment of future pension obligations.
On termination, CalPERS sharply escalates future pension costs by dropping its investment earnings forecast of 7.5 percent a year from a diverse portfolio to a bond-based 2.98 percent, ensuring payment because employer-employee contributions cease.
For Stockton, the debt or unfunded liability due immediately on termination of its CalPERS contract would have jumped from $211 million to $1.6 billion. The judge said the big bill would be a “poison pill” if the city tried to move to another pension provider.
(Stockton did not want to cut pensions, saying they are needed to be competitive in the job market, particularly for police in the city with a high crime rate. And Stockton unions had agreed to pay cuts with the promise that pensions would not be cut.)
Klein ruled that the threat of a CalPERS termination lien forcing a $1.6 billion payment is a “toothless tiger” in a bankruptcy. CalPERS seems to agree that the lien, which only takes effect in bankruptcy, is vulnerable.
Part of the judge’s finding that the CalPERS lien is unenforceable is federal bankruptcy law that “authorizes the avoidance of liens that are not perfected or enforceable at the time of the commencement of the case.”
In April 2013, the CalPERS board approved a staff proposal to sponsor legislation that would “provide CalPERS with a present lien on all assets of a contracting public agency in the amount of all obligations owed to the system.”
Legislation for a CalPERS “present lien” that would be in place before a bankruptcy has not been introduced. Unless retroactive, the bill would not have affected Stockton or San Bernardino, which filed for bankruptcy about a month apart in 2012.
Another “myth,” said Klein, is that because the Stockton plan to cut debt and exit bankruptcy leaves pensions intact employees and retirees are “not sharing the pain” with bondholders.
In addition to pay cuts, Stockton replaced retiree health benefits valued at $545 million with a $5 million lump sum payment. The judge heard anguished pleas from retirees relying on health care promised by the city.
But in his first important ruling in the Stockton case, Klein declined to block the retiree health care cut. He said in a 40-page decision in August 2012 that the bankruptcy law forbids the court to “interfere with” the property or revenues of the debtor.
Stockton negotiated approval of its debt-cutting plan with all of its unions and its largest bondholders. A lone holdout, Franklin, received $4.35 million (the value of its weak collateral: two golf courses) for $36 million in bonds, a return of 12 percent.
Franklin, planning an appeal, contended the Stockton plan’s failure to cut the largest debt, pensions, is unfair and not proposed in “good faith.” Bondholders filed a similar objection to San Bernardino’s agreement with CalPERS to avoid pension cuts.
San Bernardino has been the biggest problem for CalPERS. The city filed an emergency bankruptcy, said to be needed to keep making payroll, then took the unprecedented step of stopping payments to CalPERS for the rest of the fiscal year.
After resuming regular CalPERS payments, San Bernardino reportedly is paying off its skipped payments, $13.5 million plus fees and interest. Judge Meredith Jury has set a May 30 deadline for the city to propose a dead-cutting plan.
Not making required payments gave CalPERS grounds to terminate its San Bernardino contract. But that might have resulted in pension cuts, something CalPERS is battling to avoid in the city bankruptcies.
Voters approved a union-backed state constitutional amendment, Proposition 162 in 1992, that makes providing benefits to members the highest CalPERS priority. Benefits previously had the same priority as minimizing employer contributions and administration costs.
The duty to provide benefits was mentioned by a CalPERS spokesman last week when asked for a comment on Judge Klein’s ruling on pension cuts, legal standing doubts and being a “bully” in the case.
“The judge’s written opinion restates the determination he had made previously and explained in court,” said Brad Pacheco, CalPERS spokesman.
“What we find important is that he recognized the significant and unacceptable risk to the retirement security of California’s public employees in the end,” he said, “which was behind our motivation as a trustee with a fiduciary duty to deliver the pensions promised.”
In the Vallejo bankruptcy, CalPERS from 2008 to 2012 paid $526,356 to the law firm of Felderstein Fitzgerald Willoughby & Pascuzzi.
Then CalPERS switched law firms and from 2012 through last November paid K&L Gates $3.2 million for the Stockton bankruptcy and $3.3 million for the San Bernardino bankruptcy.
Peter Mixon, the CalPERS general counsel for 11 years, left CalPERS in 2013 and became a partner in K&L Gates last October.
Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune. More of this articles are at Calpensions.co

Business Commitments & Time Demands Force Lopez To Leave Needles City Council

(February 18) Jim Lopez resigned as Needles city councilman last week after six years and three months in that post.
Lopez said he regretted having to leave office but felt it was necessary because the demands of running his company made it impossible for him to provide his constituents with the level and intensity of service they deserve.
Lopez owns Colorado River Distributors, Inc., which formerly included distribution, industrial gas, and beverage machine servicing divisions. Colorado River Distributors is affiliated with Coca-Cola.
“In the last year, I sold two of my divisions, the ones for distribution and industrial gasses, specifically helium, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide,” Lopez said. “My territory for the Coca-Cola servicing has expanded, all the way to Barstow and Fort Irwin. This is not a normal eight hour job. I service restaurant chains – Denny’s, McDonald’s, Chili’s – and casinos. If I get a service call, I have to go right now. Travel time to Barstow or Fort Irwin takes a minimum of five hours, and you can’t put something like that off until tomorrow. This has meant severe time constraints. Before [when he had other employees] I would not schedule myself to go out on the two Tuesdays of the month [when the city council met]. But for the last five meetings [since he sold off the two divisions of his company and, with them, his employees] I have shown up 15 or twenty minutes late. That was not fair to the people I was elected to serve.”
Lopez said that when he was first elected to the council, “The council members were showing up in t-shirts. I insisted that change. I said ‘We’re all going to wear ties from now on.’ With the time constraints for me going crazy, I was the one showing up in my work clothes and then after the meeting, I was going out to work again. I have been working 13 hours a day. If I cannot commit 110 percent to what I am doing on the council, then I should not do it at all. I was being more reactive in my role on the council than pro-active. The city deserves better than that. The people who elected me deserve more than what I was able to give.”
Lopez shot down suggestions going around town that the economic downturn had forced his company to take out loans from Bing Lum, to whose company, AM Pharmacy/Community Healthcare Partners, Inc., the city had sold the Colorado River Medical Center, and that this potential or real conflict was the reason behind his resignation from the council.
“There is nothing at all to that,” said Lopez. “I went to high school with Bing Lum. The only thing that was involved here were my time constraints. It had nothing to do with Bing Lum or any kind of falling out with the city. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving Needles. I will still come to the council meetings, if I have time. I still love Needles. I’ve been a part of this community for 45 years and I still believe in it.”
He said his decision to leave the council “was hard to make. I did not feel good about creating a vacancy.” His preference is for the mayor and council to fill the gap with someone already approved by the voters. “If the mayor does it right, this won’t be that much of a disruption,” he said. “I think he should appoint the person who got the next most votes in the last election.”
He said he was leaving office with his head held high. “For six years and three months, I was doing this for all the right reasons,” he said. “The city is in a better place than it was when I came onto the council. We have a great city manager. I’m not a politician. I just tried to look at things the way they are and tell the truth.”

Ray Pryke, High Desert Property Owner, Developer And Publisher, Dead At 91

By Mark Gutglueck
(February 16) Raymond Pryke, the feisty land baron turned newspaper publisher whose longevity transformed him into the Old Lion of the High Desert, has died. He was 91.
There were multiple stages to Pryke’s life. Nearly any single one of those would rival the life experience of others. He held citizenship in three countries on two continents and briefly resided on a third, and learned to speak Spanish when he was in his late twenties.
The son of an Anglican minister, Ray was born in Elmstead Parish, County of Essex, England on May 3, 1923. His father was the rector of the Medieval Parish Church of St Anne & St. Laurence in Elmstead, and his family circumstance vantaged him with a close perspective on the British upper crust with which he was both at home and at odds his entire life. While he learned to take advantage of the opportunity of privilege, he remained until the last highly critical of “the big shots” and the political elite.
The abdication of Edward VIII when he was thirteen, a spectacle that emphasized the monarch’s utter disregard and distaste for convention, left a lasting impression on him.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Pryke defied the wishes of his parents by misrepresenting by some nine months his actual birth date to join the British Home Guard. The gallantry of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain in 1940 captured his imagination and, at 18, he enlisted in the RAF. He was never given the opportunity to fly a Spitfire, however, and while yet a cadet was instead sent, via the Queen Mary, across the Atlantic to America. Disembarking in New York, he was put on a train to Texas. Arriving near Armadillo, he was given extensive flight training on the American-made F-4, which was to soon become a standby aircraft with the British Naval Air Force, flying from British aircraft carriers after the Lend-Lease agreement with the United States was forged. It was during that first trip to America, with his sudden immersion in American culture, that Ray became infatuated with the land in which he would live during the last sixty years of his life.
After flight training and being fully checked out on the F-4, he returned to England, and was soon flying from air bases along the British coast, patrolling over the English Channel, ranging as far as the coast of France and the Netherlands before having to return to his base owing to the relatively limited range of the aircraft he was flying.
On one of these missions, Pryke was later fond of recalling, he had flown straightway toward the Low Countries. He had just entered the air space over the Netherlands, and was cruising at a speed approaching 350 miles an hour when seemingly out of nowhere in front of him was a Messerschmitt coming directly at him at a like speed. As both planes were at the same altitude and coming head on toward one another, each pilot was obliged to veer right to avoid colliding. As the planes passed each other less than 50 feet away, Ray caught fleeting sight of the German pilot at the controls of the other craft. In that fraction of a second  Pryke was able to make an instantaneous size up of his rival, who was equally as young as he, and every bit as keyed up and afraid, hovering upon the cusp of life and death. The Messerschmitt wound its way around to head back to its base, and Pryke, now low on fuel, did the same.
In 1943, Pryke transferred to the RNAS, the Royal Naval Air Service, where he flew missions from aircraft carriers, patrolling for German U-Boats. On leave once, he sojourned to Ireland, a neutral country during the war, seeking a temporary respite from the constant footing of battle readiness that had become a constant in his life. In a Dublin pub he encountered a German fighter pilot who had crashed his plane on Irish soil and, separated from his homeland, was nevertheless at liberty on the Emerald Isle as the Irish authorities would not permit the British to intern displaced Axis airmen and sailors. Ray sat down with him and bought him a Guinness, seeking to communicate with his German counterpart, despite the language difference. The German pilot showed Pryke four fingers and uttered, “Vier!” “Vier Was?” Ray retorted. “Vier Spitsfieren!” said the German, obviously very proud of his accomplishment. “Oh, I see,” said Pryke. “You shot down four Spitfires.” “Ja,” said the German, and they both drank to that. “Where are you from?” Ray asked.  “Bitte?” rejoined the German. “Woher kommen sie?” said Pryke, mustering up his best German. “Koln,” said the German fighter pilot. “Ah, Cologne” said Ray. “I was over Cologne last week and the only thing left standing is the church.” He was not sure whether the German understood him, but they both drank to that.
On June 6, 1944, Ray was among the fighter pilots in the canopy of planes over the beaches at Normandy, providing the Allies with air superiority that prevented the Luftwaffe from strafing the soldiers wading ashore.
After the war, Pryke studied at the Royal Naval Academy, then transited the Atlantic to Canada, where he registered as a Canadian citizen and took his degree at Trinity College, University of Toronto. Instead of attending his graduation, he embarked on an extended trip to Mexico and then Central and South America. In El Salvador, he met and married a woman named Graciella. He had already undertaken to learn Spanish, and at this point he polished his fluency with the language.
The marriage did not last, however, and in 1951, he moved to the United States, settling in the Los Angeles area. Here he found employment selling real estate mostly on the west side of Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley. At that point he took up residence in Malibu, which was already an enclave of the rich and famous. He became acquainted with the likes of Jackie Coogan [“The Kid” in the silent Charlie Chaplin movie and later Uncle Fester in the Addams Family television program].
When developer Penn Phillips bought the entire Hesperia Township, some 23,000 acres, in 1954 for $1.25 million and set about developing it, Ray came up to the High Desert and began selling properties for Phillips, taking advantage of the low prices to purchase and bank properties on his own. The same year, he obtained U.S. Citizenship.
Soon Pryke was spending more time in the High Desert than in Los Angeles. At one point, Phillips told Ray that he would never make it in the land business because Pryke was “in love with the deal and in love with the property. That’s no way to do business. Make your profit and get out.” This triggered a response from Ray, “I disagree, Mr. Phillips, he said. “I think there is a real future for the Victor Valley.”
One Saturday night in 1955, Pryke and a friend were at the Apple Valley Inn. They saw two women at a nearby table and they asked the waiter what the women were drinking. They then had the waiter provide the women with a round. This elicited a heated response from one of the women who walked over to Ray’s table to inform the two men that that they could pay for their own drinks and did not need any charity. The woman was Jane Schlee, the daughter of the famous aviator, Edward Schlee, who with his business partner, William Brock, replicated Charles Lindbergh’s May 1927 flight across the Pacific in their plane, “The Pride of Detroit,” arriving in Europe in September 1927 and then continuing around the globe in record setting time before going on to numerous other aviation firsts in the early 1930s. Despite her rejection of Ray’s offer of a drink in the Apple Valley Inn that night, they grew better acquainted and were soon married.
Pryke continued his steady accumulation of land, and he created a real estate company, a development company and a foreclosure company in Apple Valley, which was later transferred to Hesperia. With Jane, he purchased a house on Beach Road in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. In 1962, they reestablished the house entirely, rebuilding it from the ground up to specifications Jane drew up herself, which included pylons for the foundation, the first such adaptation along Beach Road, but one that would soon be imitated by all subsequent homes built along the exclusive drive abutting the ocean. For the next forty years, the Prykes divided their time between the beach home in San Juan Capistrano and a more modest house in Lucerne Valley. For most of that time, they commuted by plane, as Ray maintained his pilot’s license and full instrumentation rating. They would fly to Orange County on Friday, and return to touch down in Apple Valley on Monday.
In 1964, using his general contractor’s license, Pryke built the A-frame office at 16925 Main Street in Hesperia that would become the base of his High Desert operations. By 1970, he was one of the largest land owners in the High Desert. He followed a formula of purchasing large tracts, subdividing them, and then selling several of the smaller properties at a price that would pay for the larger purchase.
In 1970, at the invitation of Judge Joseph Katz, he served as the foreman of the San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury. Not content to merely rubberstamp the findings of then-district attorney’ Lowell Lathrop and his grand jury advisor, Ray took up the issue of the abuse of prisoners in the county jails, carrying out unannounced late night inspections of the detention facilities. This earned the enmity of then-sheriff Frank Bland, who attacked Pryke as naïve for calling for better treatment of those incarcerated. This lit in Ray a desire to propound a variant viewpoint to the popular notion that those in power were on top of the problems besetting society and the community and could be trusted to responsibly manage the machinery of government for the collective betterment.
Thus, when he acquired the Apple Valley News in a foreclosure, he overcame his first instinct to just sell it off, and seeing the possibilities of owning and running a newspaper, embarked on a journalistic career. He took much of his approach from the Fleet Street newspapers in England, which often used sensational headlines to drive home their points.
He used the expertise he had in the land dealing and development business to gain an uncommon view of certain high-ranking officials’ behind-the-scenes manipulation of government’s control over land use authority to enrich themselves and their cronies. One of the biggest stories of the early part of his career as a publisher was an exposé of how then-county administrative officer Robert Covington had used his influence to bootleg, in his mother’s name, a subdivision in a dry lake in Apple Valley.
Over time, Pryke founded, owned, published or acquired ten newspapers, including the Apple Valley News, the Hesperia Resorter, The Adelanto Bulletin, The Lucerne Valley Post, The Barstow Post, The Desert Mountain Express, The County Legal Reporter and The Victorville Post Express, all in San Bernadino County; and the Dana Point Pilot in Orange County; and the Antelope Valley Journal in Los Angeles County.  Collectively, the publications were known as ValleyWide Newspapers. Under his control, the newspapers broke numerous stories relating to corruption in government, the courts and law enforcement.
Pryke involved himself in a Trans-Atlantic effort to ensure the statue of Thomas Paine, the American pamphleteer during the American Revolution was maintained. Paine had been born in Thetford, England and a statue had been erected there to honor him. It had fallen into disrepair, perhaps understandably, since in his hometown, Paine was considered a traitor and had been disowned and despised.  In this case, however, Ray was outmaneuvered when the Thetford townspeople insisted that if the statue, which was made of gilded bronze, was to be refurbished it would need to be upgraded by regilding to gold leaf, the expense of which was out of the question.
In 2010, he lost his wife, Jane. Two years later he provided a $1.5 million endowment to establish the Raymond Pryke Chair in First Amendment Law at the University of California at Irvine. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was named the first chair holder.
Proud of his immigrant status, Ray nevertheless retained his British citizenship throughout his life since England does not require that those taking on foreign citizenship renounce their allegiance to the crown. Pryke proclaimed he was a Tory in England and a Democrat in America. He was a Democrat, he said, because he was forever grateful to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for saving his native country in World War II. In 1971, before the Watergate scandal, he had briefly switched to the Republican Party so he could support the presidential candidacy of Pete McCloskey, who was set on challenging incumbent Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination in 1972.  He was equally involved in local politics, using his newspapers to support candidates of whom he approved and hectoring ones with whom he was disenchanted. On numerous occasions he supported a political newcomer, only to reverse course four years later when he perceived that politician had grown into an entrenched incumbent.
Though he was areligious, he and his wife once had a personal audience with the Pope.  Harkening back to his days of training on the F-4 as a cadet in 1941, he applied for and was given by then-Texas Governor Ann Richards certification as an “honorary Texan.”
He said he believed that as an immigrant, he was more sensitive to and appreciative of the opportunity available in America than most native born citizens.
After his wife’s death, he complained that he had lost his zest, had slowed down too much, and had grown invisible. Nevertheless, he remained active in directing his empire, which included over 40 properties in the High Desert and five newspapers.
He died quietly in his sleep on February 7.
He is survived by his a brother, Derek Pryke; a nephew, Julian Coleiro; and a niece, Linda Dooley.

Upland Puts Six Crossing Guards Near 5 Schools

UPLAND (February 17)–Four months after an 11-year-old Cabrillo Elementary School Student on the way to school was killed by a hit-and-run driver, the city of Upland and the Upland Unified School District have hired six crossing guards, who are now employed to escort children crossing well-travelled streets near five campuses within the city. Within weeks. five more paid crossing guards will be in place.
Previously, the city funded a crossing guard program but eliminated that effort in 2009 to reduce costs.
At present, two crossing guards are assigned to two intersections near Cabrillo Elementary where Isaiah Shelton was run down in October. Another crossing guard covers the intersection at 22nd Street and Vallejo Way near Valencia Elementary School, and another works the intersection of 18th Street and Mountain Avenue near Pepper Tree Elementary School. A crossing guard is stationed at the intersection of 11th Street and San Antonio Avenue, to help ensure the safety of students at Baldy View Elementary and Upland High School. And a guard is in place at the intersection of 13th Street and Mountain Avenue near Sycamore Elementary.
In the aftermath of young Shelton’s death, several parents and others came forward to volunteer to serve as crossing guards. But the city and school district rejected those overtures, claiming that there would be too much of a delay while background checks on the volunteers were carried out.  This did not prevent some volunteers from simply assuming the role of crossing guards at some of the more dangerous intersections near Upland schools.
The city undertook a study of 22 intersections near the city’s schools. After examining traffic flows, officials determined that though traffic volumes are sometimes high, they do not actually meet or exceed the level of vehicular intensity that triggers a Caltrans mandate for a crossing guard.
City officials were subjected to heavy criticism by a significant number of residents at council meetings in November and January because of the discontinuation of the earlier program and their less than immediate response to demands for crossing guards in the wake of Shelton’s death.