Lucerne Valley Woman Still Missing

(March 26) Krystie Stuart, who disappeared on March 2, is still missing.
Her disappearance was lost in the shuffle and extensive media attention given to the similar circumstance relating to that Sahray Barber, who went missing from San Bernardino on March 9. Barber turned up safe at a shelter in Los Angeles on March 20.

Krystie Stuart

But Stuart’s fate remains unknown. On March 2, a Monday, Stuart left her home in Lucerne Valley for a dentist appointment in Apple Valley. At the dental office, Jess Ranch Dental, she was not in what was characterized as “the proper frame of mind” for her scheduled procedure, so the appointment was canceled. She made a phone call shortly thereafter, but never made an expected rendezvous with a friend later that day.
She had seemingly vanished into thin air. On March 8 her white Dodge Dakota was found near a burned-out structure in an unincorporated area in northern Apple Valley. Sheriff’s department investigators combed through the vehicle, but had little success finding possible evidence or information about her whereabouts. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department declared her officially missing on March 11 and brought in one of its helicopters to carry out an aerial search of the area surrounding where her car was found.
The sheriff’s department, however, has not put the same emphasis on the Stuart case as did the San Bernardino Police Department devote to the Barber matter and investigators seem to believe Stuart voluntarily left or is in hiding
This is belied, those familiar with her say, by her abandonment of her pickup truck and the personal items left behind in it. Avidly religious, it is completely out of character for her to have not at the very least returned to attend church on Sundays, according to those who know her.
It is believed that as a result of her disappearance she does not have access to prescription medications she uses. She is described as a thin white woman, 29-years-old, 5 feet 9 inches tall and 107 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a camouflage hat, white shirt, black pants and white shoes.
Anyone with information about Stuart or her whereabouts is asked to call detective Bill Doemner at the Victor Valley Sheriff’s Station at 760-956-5001 or 760-552-6800.

Forum… Or Against ‘em

By Count Friedrich von Olsen
I was a bit taken aback by word I received this week that Rick Mayhew, who holds the dual fire chief position in Upland and Montclair, is going to retire shortly after just about 16 months in those positions…
This is bad news for Upland and Montclair, but it is also bad news for the Los Angeles County cities of San Marino and Pasadena. And the fuller implication of this is bad news for taxpayers and residents in cities all over the state of California…
Rick, who lives in La Verne, was hired by Upland as its fire chief in February 2013. He came in to replace Dave Carrier, the retired fire chief from Ontario brought in to serve in an interim capacity in April 2012 following the retirement of Michael Antonucci. During Carrier’s tenure there had been discussion of closing down the Upland Fire Department altogether and Upland contracting with any of a number of fire departments, from San Bernardino County to Los Angeles County, to Ontario to Chino Valley, to CalFire…
The hiring of Rick was seen as a commitment to keeping the Upland Fire Department intact. He had never been a fire chief before, but he had an impressive 31-year track record as a firefighter first in South Pasadena, where he had risen to the position of battalion chief with the department there, and then with the San Marino Fire Department, where he acceded to the level of division chief. Upland had done about as well as it could do. Indeed, Rick Mayhew’s selection was a commitment to him, to the department and to the community. Underlying this, of course, was the belief that Rick Mayhew had likewise made a commensurate commitment to Upland…
Within a year there would be an indication that then-city manager Stephen Dunn and the city council had chosen wisely. Consulting with each other, Dunn and Montclair City Manager Edward Starr came up with a proposal to merge their respective fire department’s management and administration teams with an eye toward merging both departments altogether. First the Montclair City Council embraced the concept and then the Upland City Council. Faced with a not overwhelming but yet intense administrative challenge and an increased workload, Mayhew did not resist or hesitate, but jumped in with both feet and accommodated the preparation for the move and then facilitated it after both city councils approved the arrangement in December 2013. He efficiently devoted himself to making the arrangement work and coordinating managerial functions between the neighboring 73,732-population and 36,664-population cities, paving the way for a smooth transition into the next phase in which the higher-paid Upland firefighters will be working side-by-side with their lesser paid colleagues from Montclair…
No one can complain about the job he has done. But now that he is retiring, at the relatively youthful age of 54, I am going to complain about the job that he isn’t going to do…
As I suggested above, his hiring by Upland and then by Montclair entailed a three-way commitment: Montclair and Upland to him and he to Upland and Montclair. By taking this early retirement, I believe he is breaking his commitment…
First, it is robbing the residents of Upland and Montclair of his services. I know standards are changing, but less than a generation ago, early last decade and in the late 1990s, the standard age of retirement was 62. A generation ago the retirement age was 65. Before that it was 70, which was more than the average life expectancy. I am not suggesting that we consign Rick to staying as chief until he dies. But I think it would be proper that he remain in the position of Upland fire chief for more than two-and a-half years and in the position of combined Upland/Montclair fire chief for more than a year-and-one-half…
Second, of some consideration here is the pension system, of which Rich is to be a beneficiary. A factor in how large of a pension a public employee receives is the highest rate of pay earned at any point during the employee’s public career. That salary is multiplied in a formula that involves the number of years worked times a percentage, usually two percent in the case of non-safety employees and often two-and one-half or even three percent in the case of safety employees. In Rick’s case, his salary was boosted when he took on the dual Upland/Montclair assignment. This means that the pension he will receive, ultimately paid for by the taxpayers in Pasadena, San Marino, Upland and Montclair, will be higher…
To me it is a bit unseemly for someone to work his way up to the top of the totem pole and then, after being there only briefly, depart, taking with him the full advantages and perks of the top spot as if he had been their forever. In the case of public employees who by law are entitled to pull a very generous pension based upon the generous salary they received for the remainder or their lives courtesy of the taxpayers, this creates problems…
One problem is a practical financial one. A system that gives out such generous pensions to the growing numbers of those who have hustled up the public employment ladder and have left cannot sustain itself. It will break the bank. In time, it will collapse of its own weight…
And another problem is one of perception. Until this week, I perceived Rick Mayhew as a noble individual, one who was capable and dedicated and hard working. Now, I am less sure. I do not want to say that he fooled us, that while he may have been capable he was not truly dedicated and is in fact lazy, and angling to exploit us by gaming the system so he can collect an annual pension for the next thirty years that is greater than the salary most people in the private sector ever earned. While I am not ready to say that, there are some who will…
I want to give Rick a chance to prove those naysayers wrong. I hereby challenge Rick Mayhew to rescind his retirement filing and declare his intention to remain as fire chief in Upland and Montclair until he reaches the ripe old age of 60. He can comfort himself with the thought that retirement isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. And he will know that he is valued and productive, which is what makes life worth living…

Glimpse Of SBC’s Past: CART66 Before The CMP Horse

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
I can be pretty dang dense sometimes. For example, it took me into my early twenties to realize that 90% of the jokes people tell have a sexual connotation. I always tried to be pure in spirit before that, but it gets to a point where you just got to get real.
Speaking of being dense, for the longest time I did not “get” the acronym, “CART66” (i.e., California Route 66) thing and the ongoing politics on Route 66. As many of you know, I have been following the progression of the Bureau of Land Management’s Route 66 Corridor Management Plan as it winds its way through the scoping process and the drafting of the plan, anxious to participate in and see the outcome of the recommendations that would be made to decision makers as to the portion of the road on public land between Barstow and Needles. Pertaining to this public review, during the last couple of years I would often receive an email or be directed to a web address that included the phrase CART66. An important one was I kept thinking, this important person, Jim Klein, who is contracted to put the plan together, wants us to get on the cart and get some kicks on Route 66. Well no, not exactly, I did not realize that …CART66 is really an acronym–CA for California and RT for Route, so I put it together it is California Route 66 or CART66 as opposed to the road in Arizona (AZRT66), New Mexico (NMRT66), and Oklahoma (OKRT66) etc.
Speaking of “getting real” brings us to the CART66 before the horse situation. You know the old saying “You’ve got the cart before the horse” which means you got everything “half ass backwards” or more mildly, you aren’t doing something in the right order. Well, forgive me for being so “dense” that I didn’t notice sooner…but that is exactly what is about to happen in Needles, California (if not stopped)–major changes are to be made by the city of Needles to alter the historic footprint of Route 66 without ever having given the public an opportunity to object on the public record. If you think of the Corridor Management Plan (CMP) as the horse, and California Route 66 (CART66) as the cart, simply put the city has put CART66 before the horse. The Needles City Council is intent on demolishing a significant section of the road (CART66) in Needles before the CMP is ever completed. CART66 before the CMP horse.
Among other historic events of significance, Needles is the setting of scenes from the book and movie, “Grapes of Wrath” and on the very corner where the filming of that movie took place in Needles, from what I have learned, the historic road is to be reconfigured. A major alteration in the original linear footprint of Route 66 is imminent and would have been pulled off “under the radar” had it not been for the fact that during the city’s condemnation of private property for the federally funded I-40 Interconnect Project, officials got caught.
The Needles I-40 Interconnect Project is a project that is supposed to satiate the State of Arizona by fast tracking traffic from the I-40 over to the Arizona side of the Colorado River and the two-lane highway there. With the Arizona threatening to build their own highway completely bypassing Needles, federal funding was obtained through a local assistance program of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with Caltrans being delegated with FHWA’s duties for oversight with regard to compliance with the federal environmental laws.
From the J Street off ramp, downtown Needles to the bridge crossing the river, pavement rehabilitation and intersection improvements, including signals, turn lanes, sidewalks and crossings to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, some road widening, utility relocations, and some drainage improvements are to be installed. Temporary construction easements (TCEs) and so-called “sliver-takes” (thin strips of new right-of-way to be acquired from adjacent properties) have also already been taken by eminent domain and condemnation.
I know I am not the only one who is surprised to find out that the city is at least three years in on a federal project plan where environmental documents never came before public scrutiny and they did this under the guise of being “exempt” from public notification and environmental review. The corner is not the only historic structure in the project area to be demolished. There are at least five other historic properties that will be impacted. How could the city’s project be “exempt” or “categorically excluded” from completing an environmental assessment when significant historic structures in what could be considered an important historic district of cultural properties along Route 66 are to be impacted by a federal project?
Well, as it turns out the Riverside County based firm “Applied Earthworks, Inc.” who came into San Bernardino County and conducted the cultural resource assessment, advertently or inadvertently failed to record, missed or omitted all the historic structures and their settings in harm’s way. What did they miss?
For one thing, they apparently found no significance in the landmark corner, curve and median at the corner of River Road and Broadway. This corner, with all of its character and charm, being landscaped with native plants may very well turn out to be one of, if not the only original wide sweeping 90 degree corner with a stop sign on the historic California portion of the Mother Road [another term four Route 66] as it existed in its heyday.
For those traveling east, the landmark signals the right turn to historic downtown Needles. Otherwise, one must continue straight on to the turnoff for the bridge crossing the river to Arizona. For those traveling west, they must stop at a rare 90 degree corner turn on Route 66 or find themselves at the river’s edge in the Aha Macav (Mojave) Indian Village a block away.
The city is only a few months out from beginning demolition and this disheartens me very much since I always envisioned being able to someday figure out a way to finance a statue of Padre Garces, the Franciscan monk, and the Mojave guides who showed him the way across the Mojave Desert on foot in 1776 from Needles to the San Bernardino Valley.
I’ve often dreamed of something akin to “Garces Circle” in Bakersfield, which is oh so close to the present day Mojave “village.” The inclusion of the Mojave guide figures would have been so fitting and symbolic—a great statement of Needles historic relevance since 1776. But now the median will be no more, soon to be replaced by a straight shot 4-way corner with traffic signals, just like any other city corner in the world—unless the city is stopped or the project altered.
Other historic structures to be impacted include the setting of historic “Green Mansion” and possibly the prohibition era tunnels under it, which are said to be “old opium dens” that were also said to be used to smuggle whisky and women from the shops around the railroad depot to the “Green Mansion” brothel.
As extraordinary as it may seem, the “Green Mansion” is an example 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 and three street east of Route 66 (N Street/Broadway). I highlighted this property in the June 20, 2014 edition of Glimpse of SBC’s Past.
What will become of the Sage Motel’s historic “atomic age art” signage during project construction is unknown. The sign is adjacent to old Route 66 in the project area just south of the “curve.” Typically a cultural report would recognize the sign, state the potential impact of the project and recommend avoidance of the signage. In this case, by not mentioning that there were cultural resources, the project proponents who happen to be the local, state and federal government, exempted themselves from the requirement of public review of potential impacts.
Also in the path of bulldozers are historic walls and a road to a historic hill top house—all entirely “missed” in the cultural report prepared by a Riverside-based archaeological firm. The road is likely over 100 years old and the Works Project Administration may have later built the walls at the base of the hill. The setting of two historic circa 100-year old vernacular homes on the corners of J Street and Route 66 are to be disturbed. Further studies are needed to determine the ages of these historic structures and features that add to the overall character of the National Old Trails Highway/Route 66 historic district in Needles where J street is to be widened between the J Street off ramp of the I-40 and its intersection with Route 66.
Since it is a federally funded project, CalTrans reviewed the cultural resource report on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration to determine if sites eligible for the Nation Register of Historic Places would be impacted. Route 66 is already on the National Register and it will be impacted, but apparently that widening the road and changing its footprint was not considered so “significant” that the impact needed to submitted for public review. Andrew Walters, principal architectural historian from Caltrans District 8 in the environmental support/cultural studies section of the San Bernardino office (909-383-2647) suggested to me that since the road project consisted of “sliver takes” and only a small portion of the “setting” of the historic structures would be impacted, this was perhaps an explanation as to why the historic properties weren’t recorded.
This explanation however is another cart before the horse: How can one determine if the project will have “no effect” if the historic property potentially in harm’s way has not been documented? Route 66 is to be widened, “sliver takes” from properties alongside the road are to be taken. The widening itself is an impact to the historic footprint of Route 66. Cutting into the setting of historic structures brings traffic closer to the structures with exhaust from vehicles waiting at the traffic signal adjacent and closer than before to historic properties like the Green Mansion on K Street and the 100 year old vernacular houses on Broadway and the historic Route 66 Sage Motel signage. In the case of the historic wall and hillside roadway on J Street, they will be obliterated. So how is that considered to be “no effect,” exempt from recording, evaluation and impact alleviation/mitigation?
The federal regulations 36 CFR 800 for compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires a good faith effort to identify, document and record historic properties including consultation with local historians, review of the existing literature and field surveys. After this identification process, the agencies were supposed to then evaluate these properties for their potential eligibility on historic registers and determine the potential impact of the project undertaking upon these identified properties. Then the agencies are to seek ways to avoid minimize or mitigate any adverse effects upon these properties (like, mapping, photography, taking measurements, writing descriptive narrative). They are not supposed to just say, “Oh, we know they are there, but we think we can avoid them, so we won’t say anything about them.”
Except for the notation that Route 66 is to be impacted and it is on the National Register, none of this other documentation was done. The point is that the agencies involved in this project are out of compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and a reevaluation of the project’s impact upon cultural resources needs to take place along with reconsideration of what measures should be taken to alleviate the adverse impact. The public should have a say in all of this—the public has a right to be informed and to object to the government’s plan to adversely impact Route 66’s historic footprint and related cultural features and artifacts.
So where does the CART66CMP fit into all of this? Well, had the city of Needles and CalTrans waited until the BLM’s Route 66 Management Plan is approved, Chapter 6 of that plan addresses ways to eliminate this sort of “falling between the cracks” undertakings on Route 66. Jim Klein, the lead consultant on the project, “hopes that the process outlined in the CMP, starting on page 117, will help to ensure projects like these are more sensitive to the historic context of Route 66.” Klein also told me that as a result of my comment at the webinar, the team is “recommending that Needles, Barstow, and San Bernardino County flag projects that are located along Route 66 so that proponents will use a more appropriate process from the beginning.”
Now, with all that said, I am going to be kind to myself. It may have taken me a long time to figure out what the city and CalTrans were up to, but “better late than never.” The bulldozers aren’t out on Route 66 (yet) and I haven’t had to lay in the Mother Road in front of them (yet), as was close to the case of the activist who cried foul over in 29 Palms when bulldozers were already cutting through the prehistoric deposit at the Oasis of Mara when archaeologist Cindy Stoddard caught them (See story, Destruction of the Oasis of Mara in the Glimpse of SBC’s Past in the 9-20-13 issue of the Sentinel).

Five Fighting On Behalf Of San Bernardino County In Battle Of The Badges

(March 25) Five representatives from San Bernardino County will be among the 28 combatants taking part in the March 28 Battle of the Badges Boxing and Kickboxing event at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. Competitors included police officers and firefighters from a number of San Beranrdino County, Riverside County, Los Angeles County and Orange County communities, members of public safety organizations and the United States armed forces. They will square off in a standard 25-foot by 40-foot ring to support at-risk youth and honor San Bernardino Police Officer Gabriel Garcia, who was gravely wounded in, but now on the mend from, a shooting by a suspect last year.
On the card will be five foot eleven inch 180 pound 54-year old Edward “Brooklyn Bomber” Espinoza, representing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department against five foot six inch 180 pound 53-year-old Jon “The Bear” Knowlton, representing Upland Animal Services; Six foot one inch 245 pound 31 -year-old Danny “The Lummox” Chandler, representing the Escondido Fire Department against five foot eleven inch 250 pound 27-year-old Thomas “The Train” Kolb, representing the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department; five foot ten inch 175 pound 31-year-old Brandon “The Grenade” Vierra, representing the U.S. Forest Service against six foot two inch 165-pound Justin Bonnar, representing the U.S. Army; five foot five inch 155 pound 30 year-old Catharine “Chaos” Marshall, representing the U.S. Marine Corps against five foot eight 160-pound 33-year-old Alice “Anchor” Lopez, representing U.S. Probation; five foot seven inch 154-pound Dustin Rodriguez of the Santa Monica Fire Department against five foot eight inch 154-pound Brandon Manning of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department; in the co-main event five foot seven inch 160 pound 22-year-old Katherine Proudfoot, representing the 29 Palms Fire Department against five foot three inch 155 pound 37 year old Christina Banuelos, representing the Riverside Sheriff’s Office; in the main event five foot three inch 155 pound 37-yer-old Omar “Havoc” Romero, representing the Riverside Sheriff’s Office against five foot eleven inch 175-pound 35-year-old Travon “T-Bomb” Taylor, representing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; six foot three inch 280 pound 25 year-old Brian Harrington, representing the Pechanga Department of Public Safety against six foot seven inch 285 pound David Goliath” Smith; five foot nine inch 155 pound 34-year-old Julian “Brown sugar” Zermeno representing the Santa Monica Fire Department against five foot seven inch 154 pound 41-year-old Sheny Gutierrez, a criminal defense attorney; five foot eight inch 145 pound 39 year old Mike “The Preacher” Sarkissian, representing the Victorville Unified School District Juvenile Task Force against five foot ten inch 155 pound 33-year-old John “Mean Machine” Barnes of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department; five foot eight inch 175-pound 45-year-old Sean Shanen, representing the Fontana Unified School District Police Department against five foot eight inch 175 pound 33-year-old Manny “Pac Man” Trujillo, representing the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department; five foot four inch 132 pound 26-year-old Gracie Melendez, representing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department against five foot five inch 135 pound 24-year-old Kesha “Mean” Guilin; six foot two inch 245 pound 34-year-old Justin “Bubba” Robinson, representing the Camp Pendleton Fire Department against six foot two inch 220 pound 37-year-old Ruben “Give You A Shawa” Gamboa, representing the Whittier Fire Protection District; and six foot 252 pound 38-year-old Mike “The Night Nurse” Bates, representing Loma Linda Hospital against six foot 240 pound 26 year old Edgar “The Animal” Villarroel, of United Security in Hemet.
Shanen this week told the Sentinel that he has been training for the bout since October, “sparring, circuit training, doing foot work, bag work.”
He said the Battle of the Badges events are held about once every six months and that he hopes Saturday’s bouts are “well attended because it’s for a good cause. We are working to help parents raise good children by keeping them off the streets. The Fontana Boxing Club is closing down and the building is old. I’m hoping in collaboration with the Fontana Unified School District and the city of Fontana we can establish and open a Cops 4 Kids in Fontana besides the facility that’s already going strong in Colton.”
Proceeds from Saturday night’s event will go to Cops 4 Kids & Communities to benefit at-risk and underprivileged youth in Southern California.
The bouts are being staged at the Pechanga Resort Casino & Spa, located at 45000 Pechanga Parkway in Temecula. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and the first bout begins at 6 p.m.

Pima Ratany

The Pima ratany, which is also known as the littleleaf ratany or the range ratany, is a semi-parasitic plant, a relatively rare phenomenon in San Bernardino County. The Pima ratany derives some, though not all, of its nutritional requirements from another living plant. Though it freeloads on other plants, it can itself be exploited by humans, and has several uses.
The Pima ratany, of the Krameriaceae family, is a perennial shrub or subshrub, and inhabits the desert and upland areas of Southern California and Arizona. It features flowers of a brilliant magenta pink, which bloom in the spring, summer and fall. The Pima ratany will grow to about two feet tall.
The flowers have five petal-like, oval, magenta sepals and five tiny petals. The sepals are cupped forward and the distinctive bottom sepal is cupped and curled upwards. There are three upper petals and two lateral, glandular petals. The nutlike fruits are rounded and covered in fuzzy, white hair and reddish spines that are covered with tiny barbs. The leaves are alternate, small, green, hairy, and linear. The stems are branched and sprawl at the base.
The Pima ratany is a hemiparasite, that is, it is a partial root parasite of nearby plants. Like all parasitic plants, the Pima ratany has an organ, called a haustorium, which connects to the conductive system of nearby host plant to extract water and nutrients. In the case of the Pima ratany, its haustorium connects to the root of its host. The plants it is most likely to steal from are the trangleaf bursage and the creosote bush. The biological action of ratany is caused by the astringent rhataniatannic acid, which is similar to tannic acid.
The Pima ratany is not wholly dependent upon parasitizing the roots of other plants, as it photosynthesizes on its own.
Another rare quality of the Pima ratany is that its flowers have glands called elaiophores, which produce a lipid, i.e., oil, which is offered to their bee pollinators in lieu of nectar. Bees of the genus Centris, sometimes known as oil bees, acquire nectar from other plants, but also are attracted to the ratany’s oil, which they combine with pollen to feed their larvae.
Rhatany is also the name given to krameria root, and a botanical remedy consisting of the dried root is prepared. Infusions have been used as a gargle, as a local hemostatic and remedy for diarrhea. The dried root has been mixed with cocaine to make lozenges. When finely powdered, the dried roots have been a main ingredient in tooth powders. The powdered roots contain a virtually insoluble free red substance called ratanhia red, which is used as a dye. In Portugal, ratanhia red is used to color wines ruby red.

California Style: Hatting

It’s another week and the sun is rising earlier and brighter everyday. Spring is also bringing wind into the Inland Empire and its blowing up the women’s skirts. Although pants have replaced skirts for the most part its all about “HATTING” at the moment. But the hat has got to be held on to due to the strong winds. Felt hats are perfect for the sun and because they are light it looks fun when they are held on to during the windy days. This is a new thing about the brim hat because it suddenly hit the streets and it can be so much fun to wear, too. Wide brim hats look great with shades, scarves, and bright lipstick. Its just another fun accessory to add to your outfit. Spring has just begun and the hat is just the tip of the iceberg of the great fashion pieces that are about to move upon us. Enjoy your hat and any other accessory for that matter. The weather is looking great and winds are in full speed, so make sure you’re holding on to your hat while walking the streets. Enjoy the spring wind and have a great week.

A person carries off the hat. Hats are about emotion. It is all about how it makes you feel.
~Philip Treacy

State Okays $142M Loan To Build Yucca Valley Water Treatment System

(March 17) The California Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday, March 17 voted to make a tentative commitment to a $142,349,314 one percent interest loan to the Hi-Desert Water District to help in the financing of the construction of a sewer system in Yucca Valley.
That loan will likely stave off drastic action by the state that would impose severe sanctions on the town and its residents, and which would have potentially rendered Yucca Valley a ghost town by 2022.
The community of Yucca Valley is under a mandate by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to complete, or have made substantial progress toward completion of, the first phase of the town’s sewer system in less than 14 months.
In 2007, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state agency responsible for protecting water quality, adopted a resolution identifying the town of Yucca Valley as one of 66 communities throughout the state with groundwater threatened by the continuing overuse of septic systems. Lacking the financial wherewithal to undertake the construction of a sewer system, local officials resisted taking immediate action. Nor did the city have the will to impose any kind of building or development moratorium that would stabilize the problem. Town and water district officials delayed the imposition of state mandates by forging a memorandum of agreement with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to allow interim permits for new septic systems while planning for a wastewater system proceeded.
By 2010, Yucca Valley’s population had zoomed to 20,700, an increase of 3,835 or 22.7 percent over the 16,865 town residents counted in the 2000 Census, and the following year the town was firmly informed it had only five years to take a definitive step toward water quality compliance.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board at that point imposed three progressive phases of septic discharge prohibitions on Yucca Valley. Under the state mandate, phase 1 of a waste water system must be completed or significantly on its way to completion by May 19, 2016 or enforcement action will be initiated. The first phase of the project is to cover the downtown area of Yucca Valley, the area most proximate to the heart of the groundwater basin. Similarly, phase 2 must be completed or nearly completed by May 19, 2019 and phase 3 must be completed by May 19, 2022. The last two phases lie further out where future concentrated development is most likely to occur.
The imposition of that deadline four years ago was intended as a wake-up call to local officials to undertake an effort to avert the growing water quality crisis. But little progress toward the goal of planning and funding the system has been made and there has been absolutely no physical progress with regard to establishing it.
In 2012, the Yucca Valley Town Council tested the community’s willingness to pay for or otherwise finance the construction of rhe system, sponsoring Measure U, a once cent sales tax initiative, the lion’s share of the proceeds from which town officials said would be devoted toward building the sewer system. The measure failed.
Cost projections have been made, with one covering the price for a contractor building the system and another sizing up the cost of having water district staff carry out the project. It will cost, according to this documentation, between $133,248,401 and $140,651,089 for the design and construction work to be performed by Atkins North America and somewhere between $111,539,901 and $117,736,562 for the district to construct the project using Atkins North America’s proposed design. The system would consist of a water treatment plant and a collection system entailing over 400,000 linear feet of pipe.
Within the last fortnight, a wastewater treatment assessment schedule has been drawn up, showing variable contributions from different landowners depending on the value of each parcel. A single-family household in the first phase of the sewer system will have to pay roughly $18,283 in assessments over 30 years.
The Hi-Desert Water District Board of Directors last month awarded a $2.8 million contract to Riverside-based Carollo Engineers to manage the construction of Yucca Valley’s wastewater collection system and treatment facility over the next three-and-a-half years. Carollo was chosen to serve as the project manager because it has been involved in planning for the wastewater project for years, having represented the Hi-Desert Water District with companies considered as potential contractors or sub-contractors on the project.
Yucca Valley is deemed by the state to be an economically disadvantaged community based on its household median income of $41,804, which is about 68 percent of the state average. On that basis, the state water board’s financial staff recommended that the low-interest loan be made to the water district, which is serving as the lead agency on the project.
Under the agreement drawn up, the Hi-Desert Water District will repay the state about $5.5 million each year with fees paid by property owners. The water board and the water district gambled by entering into the tentative arrangement for the loan, in that Yucca Valley’s property owners have yet to agree to the formation of an assessment district. The water district is now preparing to send ballots relating to the assessment district to property owners. Each ballot is provide a description of the proposed maximum assessment for each property. Single-family homes in phase one will pay an estimated $100 per month, consisting of a $62 to $64 assessment and a $36 per month wastewater treatment fee. Homes in phases two and three will pay only the assessment charge, but will need to start paying the sewer treatment fee once they are connected to the system.
The commercial property assessment will start at the level charged to residential properties but could increase from that if they are heavy water users.
Yucca Valley is a town dominated by Republicans, with 4,084 or 41 percent of its 9,951 registered voters registered with the GOP as opposed to 2,609 or 26.2 percent registered as Democrats. Few of the town’s residents are affluent. A solid majority are philosophically opposed to the application of government mandates and the use of government taxing authority. The town’s political leadership has reflected this attitude, and for years decried the order to construct a sewage treatment system as an inappropriate intrusion by Sacramento into local affairs. Little in the way of progress toward creating a funding mechanism for defraying the cost of the project had been made until now and no physical progress has been made.
With the May 2016 deadline approaching, however, political philosophy is giving way to situational reality.
If the sewer system is not in place in the designated zones by the stipulated dates, Yucca Valley property owners will receive cease and desist orders with the potential of daily fines for non-compliance. They will be ordered to discontinue the discharge from their septic systems entirely. If they do not, they would be subject to fines levied against them that in less than two months time would exceed the value of most homes in Yucca Valley. Moreover, the restrictions on their use would render them inhabitable.
The state of California has utilized draconian measures in the past against other communities that failed to come into compliance, such as in Los Osos, which was under a similar order from the California Water Resources Board and failed to heed it. The entire community of Los Osos became subject to an enforcement action, which was done in a lottery fashion, in which random property owners were selected to receive cease and desist orders with the potential of daily fines for non-compliance. They were ordered to discontinue the discharge from their septic systems, seal them off and pump them at regular intervals. If they did not, they were subjected to fines of up to $5,000 per day.
Water district and town officials, while acknowledging the $18,283 assessments will be a burden on many of the town’s residents which may even result in some of those property owners losing their homes in an eventual tax lien sale, they say the low-interest loan being offered by the State Water Resources Control Board is the community’s best and perhaps only option in dealing with the water quality and state enforcement crisis it faces.
If the town’s voters do not approve the assessment district, the state will withdraw the loan.
A key factor in whether the assessment district will gain approval is the willingness of Roger Mayes, a current Hi-Desert Water District board member and past board president, to actively campaign for the district’s acceptance. An ardent Republican and a longtime advocate of limited government who has been less than fully supportive of undertaking the project in the past, Mayes is also the pastor at Grace Community Church, where he has a Svengali-like hold over the church’s members. If he chooses to use his pulpit to advocate on behalf of the assessment district, Mayes can literally deliver hundreds of votes in support of it.

Upland Gives Up On Brown Lawn Criminal Prosecution

(March 19) Bowing at last to political, legal and environmental reality, the city of Upland this week dismissed the criminal case it had lodged last year against Fernand Bogman, the city resident who was being prosecuted for his refusal to water his lawn during the ongoing California drought.
As California was entering the third year of an historic drought, Bogman in 2013 installed a drip irrigation system to water the plants and shrubs in his front yard located in the 1000 block of 14th Street and ceased watering his grass. His intention, he said, was to replace the water-intensive lawn with drought tolerant plants. He said he believed it was “immoral to pour buckets and buckets of water on grass and landscaping while the entire state is in the middle of a drought.”
He was contacted by a city code enforcement officer, who informed him that it was a violation of the city’s code for him to neglect his lawn. Bogman made inquiries at City Hall to ascertain what types of drought tolerant landscaping would be permissible under the city code as a replacement for his grass. According to Bogman, however, city officials were unable to give him a clear answer to his questions, and they blurred the distinction between drought tolerant plants and California native plants, many of which are themselves water intensive. Unable to obtain reliable clearance from the city for landscaping his yard with plants that would reduce his water usage, Bogman did not proceed with replanting, concerned that if he invested in cultivating plants eventually deemed unacceptable to the city, he would be put to the trouble and expense of having to tear them out and replant again.
The city cited Bogman under its civil code enforcement authority. In his dialogue with city officials, Bogman said, they showed no sensitivity toward the rationale for his action, but insisted that he come into compliance with the code by maintaining his lawn. The city adjudicated the civil citation against him in its own favor. Bogman remained defiant. The city then went to the extraordinary level of escalating the civil case against Bogman into a criminal one.
At that point Bogman went public. He attended city council meetings where he addressed the city council, informing them of the action city staff had taken against him. He articulated his rationale, citing the four-year running drought. He referenced California Governor Jerry Brown’s action in response to the water shortage, which entailed calling upon all individuals and communities statewide to conserve water and his own adherence to that mandate, including allowing the lawn at the governor’s mansion in Sacramento to turn brown. Bogman pointed out that Upland’s policy clashed with those of other municipalities in San Bernardino County and elsewhere, which had ordinances against using too much water on lawns and landscaping. And he gathered photographs of city property, including portions of the landscaped areas around the Upland Civic Center, where the city itself had neglected its own grass and landscaping, allowing it to die. When the city continued to force the issue criminally, media outlets picked up on the story, including newspapers, radio stations and television stations. In the coverage that ensued, which featured an open running debate of sorts with the city and its prosecutor, Dan Peelman, on one side and Bogman on the other, Bogman appeared to give as good as he got.
Bogman at that point was represented by the San Bernardino County Pubic Defender’s Office. On November 24, Bogman showed up for a hearing at which Peelman failed to make an appearance. Judge Jon Ferguson, who was clearly becoming impatient with the case having been pushed into the criminal realm, very nearly dismissed it outright, but postponed making such a ruling until the next week, when Peelman did show. The case was extended to January 12.
Meanwhile Bogman reseeded his lawn and with the winter rains, the lawn rejuvenated. Furthermore, local attorney Michael Vollandt of the Upland-based Law Office of Marc E. Grossman substituted in as Bogman’s attorney. In January, Peelman, perhaps believing that Bogman was not truly prepared to go to the expense and trouble of taking the matter to trial, offered Bogman a plea deal, which Vollandt rejected out of hand. Ferguson then set a trial date of January 27 which was later extended to March 30. Further signaling his impatience, Ferguson instructed the parties to come to some kind of settlement. Over the next two months, despite having been presented with evidence that Bogman’s lawn was again intact and thriving, Peelman was unwilling to dismiss the case outright and allow Bogman’s challenge of the city’s policy to be in any way vindicated.
This week, however, just as Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature were introducing a $1 billion drought relief package, Peelman on behalf of the city of Upland threw in the towel against Bogman, saying the case against him was being dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
At the same time, the city sought to put the best face possible on the debacle, releasing a press release that stated, “For the past 18 months, neighbors of Mr. Bogman have been complaining that Mr. Bogman let his lawn die and that the lack of landscaping was negatively affecting neighborhood property values. The city subsequently requested that Mr. Bogman comply with city laws that require landscaping to be maintained, dead landscaping be removed, and that dirt areas not exceed a maximum of 25% of lawns and parkways. City staff met with Mr. Bogman and provided various landscape and hardscape options for his front yard that was mostly dirt, but these suggestions were not initially followed. Recently however, staff observed that Mr. Bogman chose to re-seed his front lawn and add mulch and rock to the parkway, all in compliance with the city’s municipal code. Mr. Peelman informed the court that he made the motion to dismiss “in the interest of justice.”
Grossman said the city’s press release was self serving and inaccurate. He pointed out that the city staff and Peelman knew in January that Bogman’s lawn was reseeded and growing but had gambled on proceeding with case out of the mistaken belief that Bogman would capitulate and accept a guilty plea prior to trial commencing.
In actuality, Grossman said, Bogman and Vollandt were anxious for the matter to go to trial because they believed it would give them a forum to demonstrate the shortsightedness of the city’s policies and the wrongheadedness of its draconian enforcement and prosecutorial action.
“The city has denied Mr. Bogman his day in court,” Grossman said. “This case would have set a clear precedent and would prevent the city from bullying other citizens into compliance with its dubious codes.”
Vollandt said Bogman was “a staunch supporter of the governor’s fight against the drought. He complied with the state’s mandates on water conservation, only to be rebuffed by the city of Upland’s water guzzling administration instructing their prosecutor to file the criminal charges against him.”
Grossman said that despite the city’s attempt at face saving and warding off negative publicity, he and members of his firm would continue to be on the lookout for instances of the city abusing its authority and would again rally to the defense of any resident they learn is falling victim to the city’s overreaching.

Despite Setbacks, Ontario Confident In Airport Return Lawsuit Against LA

The cities of Ontario and Los Angeles are on track to go to trial in the lawsuit the San Bernardino County city has brought against the megalopolis in the attempt to win back ownership and control of Ontario International Airport.
In 1967, when 200,000 passengers were moving through Ontario Airport’s gates, the city of Ontario entered into a joint powers agreement with Los Angeles to have LA use its division of airports to manage and run the airport. Los Angeles was able to use its leverage with many airlines based on its control of gate positions and other perks at Los Angeles International Airport to induce airlines to fly into and out of Ontario Airport.
Under Los Angeles’s guidance, Ontario airport prospered and ridership there increased dramatically. Los Angles saw to it that Ontario Airport’s gravel parking lot was paved and its runway was extended to become the longest commercial runway in Southern California. In 1985, after performance criteria laid out in the original joint powers agreement were met, the Ontario City Council, with then-mayor Robert Ellingwood absent, voted to deed the airport to Los Angeles for no consideration. Ontario Airport continued to grow in the years thereafter, as Los Angeles and the corporate entity it had created to run its airport division, Los Angeles World Airport, upgraded, improved, modernized and expanded the airport, including the addition of two state-of-the-art, world-class terminals and a concourse in the late 1990s. Ontario Airport had become a primary asset to the city of Ontario, though Ontario technically did not own it, and in 2007, ridership reached an all-time high of 7.2 million passengers.
But with the economic downturn that settled over the nation, state and region that year, passenger traffic at Ontario Airport dropped off precipitously the next year and continued to decline as the recession lingered. By 2010, Ontario officials were pressuring Los Angeles officials to do something about the declining numbers at Ontario Airport. Simultaneously, Los Angeles World Airport officials were pushing ahead with a modernization and upgrading undertaking at Los Angeles International Airport initiated in 2006. As the number of passengers at Ontario Airport dwindled and some airlines discontinued flying into and out of Ontario while ridership increased at Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario officials began to suggest that Ontario Airport was being neglected. Soon Ontario officials were charging Los Angeles with purposefully mismanaging Ontario Airport as part of a strategy to benefit Los Angeles International Airport. Ontario then initiated a public relations campaign aimed at pressuring Los Angeles to return the airport to Ontario. The terms and stridency of this campaign escalated, poisoning relations between the two cities and their officials. As the 2013 Los Angeles municipal election approached, Ontario officials sought to make alliances with both of the candidates who qualified for the May 2013 run-off for mayor, Wendy Gruel and Eric Garcetti. Ontario officials expressed hope that they would be able to make headway in dealing with Garcetti, who proved the eventual victor. Nevertheless, in June 2013, just prior to Garcetti being sworn in as mayor, Ontario sued Los Angeles, using the high powered and well connected Washington-D.C.-based law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton, which also has an office in Los Angeles, to represent it.
Ontario aggressively pursued the lawsuit, and Ontario councilman Alan Wapner, in particular, was highly visible and vocal in asserting Ontario’s position outside the context of the court and Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton’s court filings.
Ontario had five prongs in its suit. The first prong was that the entire deal between Ontario and Los Angeles was invalid in that the Joint Powers Agreement was flawed and unenforceable. The second prong was that the transfer of the airport to Los Angeles in 1985 was illegal in that it had taken place as a consequence of a simple vote of the city council and should have entailed a full vote of the city’s electorate. The third prong was that Los Angeles had breached its contract with Ontario i.e., the terms of the joint powers agreement. The fourth prong was breach of the fiduciary duty Los Angeles has toward Ontario as a consequence of the joint powers agreement. And the fifth prong is breach of good faith and fair dealing on the city of Los Angeles’s part.
The case was filed in Riverside Superior Court to avoid any conflicts that might occur because of bias toward one party or another in San Bernardino or Los Angeles counties. Judge Gloria Connor Trask is hearing the case in Riverside.
With regard to the first two prongs, Trask in January tentatively ruled and then in February confirmed that Ontario’s efforts to have the 1967 joint powers authority agreement invalidated and 1985 agreement giving Los Angeles the airport declared void had come too late and were barred by the statute of limitations even if the agreement and the transfer were flawed on legal or procedural grounds.
Thus, three-fifths of Ontario’s lawsuit has already been wiped out. The remaining issues to be litigated after Judge Trask’s recent ruling pertain to breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of good faith and fair dealing.
Ontario’s road to victory has grown even more tortuous. Earlier, in December, Ontario had scored what appeared to be a crucial tactical advantage when Trask ruled that Los Angeles had to provide to Ontario over 2,000 internal Los Angeles city and Los Angeles World Airport documents sought by Ontario in its suit as part of the discovery process. Those included memos, emails, letters, communications and other materials relating to Los Angeles World Airport’s managerial and administrative actions regarding Ontario Airport. It is the theory of the Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton legal team representing Ontario composed of attorneys Andre Cronthall, Scott Sveslosky and Catherine La Tempa that among those documents is a smoking gun or several smoking guns showing that Los Angeles World Airport officials were indeed slighting Ontario Airport and doing so purposefully because they were trying to drive passengers away from Ontario to Los Angeles.
The attorneys for Los Angeles, however, did not fully comply with Trask’s order, claiming that 399 of the documents fall under attorney-client privilege, They appealed the ruling to the Fourth State Court of Appeals. Joshua Stambaugh, an attorney representing Los Angeles asserted in January that many of the documents sought were communications from individuals who are not named in the suit and are not likely to be added as defendants to the suit. The self-evaluation and personnel files of a person who is not a defendant in the case are protected by the attorney-client privilege and the state Constitution’s right to privacy, Stambaugh said. Moreover, Stambaugh maintained that Los Angeles, in evaluating the sought-after documents, had learned that the 399 documents in question contain attorney-client information that is not discoverable.
Last week the appeals court ruled that Trask should reconsider her decision. The appeals court did not direct Trask to prohibit Ontario from seeing any or all of the 399 documents in dispute, but suggested that a more rigorous evaluation with regard to them needs to be made.
Ontario yet maintains that it has a right to examine the documents. Typically, in such disputes, an ostensibly uninterested legal expert, either another judge or an attorney with no connection to the case, will be appointed as a special master. That special master would then evaluate each of the documents to ascertain if they are privileged or if they are eligible for discovery.
At this point, there is not enough information available for outsiders to know whether Ontario’s case would rise or fall on the strength of the documents in dispute. This week, Cronthall told the Sentinel that he believes there is adequate information available for his client, Ontario, to prevail in the matter if it goes to trial as anticipated on August 17.
“All three causes of action arise from the same set of facts,” Cronthall said. “They all hinge on the joint powers agreement (“JPA”) entered into between Ontario and Los Angeles in 1967. The JPA created LA’s contractual obligation to use its best efforts to develop air service at Ontario International Airport. LA breached that obligation by, among other things, failing to use its best efforts to grow air service at Ontario Airport. Instead LA reduced the marketing budget for Ontario Airport, caused staffing levels and resulting labor costs to remain unreasonably high, collected an administrative fee that was unreasonably high, reduced to part time status the manager and assistant manager of the airport, and allowed the overall cost per enplaned passenger to increase and then remain too high.”
Cronthall said, “The breach of the implied good faith and fair dealing is based on LA’s above breaches plus LA’s failure to permit Ontario to receive the benefits that should have been derived from the agreement. LA failed not only to meaningfully market and advertise Ontario Airport, it took no significant steps to reverse Ontario International Airport’s downturn from 7.2 million enplaned passengers in 2007 to less than 4 million through 2013. Also, for example, chief operating officer Steve Martin acknowledged that LA’s air service development was either nonexistent or dead in the water, but Los Angeles World Airports decided to ‘leave the ineptitude as is.’”
Cronthall said,”LA’s failure to use best efforts and its other breaches also amount to a breach of fiduciary duty. By entering together into the JPA, LA and Ontario essentially formed a partnership or joint venture, triggering fiduciary obligations. Its failure to use best efforts and other breaches constituted a breach of fiduciary duty as well.”
Moreover, Ontario intends to revive the first two prongs of the lawsuit, Cronthall said. .
“Ontario also intends to appeal Judge Trask’s ruling granting LA summary adjudication as to Ontario’s causes of action for rescission and reformation,” he told the Sentinel.
Los Angeles World Airports officials have consistently refused to discuss the lawsuit outside of making references to court filings. In defending their operation and management of Ontario Airport and in addressing the six year-long downturn in ridership there, they have said the lingering recession had a devastating impact on aviation enterprises in general, that outlying hub airports geographically removed from major population centers such as Ontario were particularly hard hit and that the decisions by some airlines to reduce or eliminate flights to such outlying hubs in response to the contracting air travel market were ones made internally and independently over which Los Angeles World Airport has no control.