Chinese Railway Swoops In To Revive Victorville-To-Vegas Bullet Train

VICTORVILLE— China’s slowing economy has apparently prompted China Railway International to enter into a joint venture with Xpress West to push the thrice-delayed high speed rail line from Victorville to Las Vegas to completion.
As originally proposed ten years ago, the project’s proponent, hotel developer Marnell Corrao Associates, intended to use private funding to build the $6.9 billion Xpress West, starting work in 2010 so it might be operational by 2015. Subsequently, the construction timetable was altered, with work slated to begin in early 2012 and full service being initiated by early 2016. Tickets were to be priced at $75 per passenger on a train that would achieve a top speed of 150 mph, averaging 130 mph, and make the 186 mile trip from Victorville to Las Vegas in an hour and 24 minutes.
But in 2012, Marnell reformulated its approach, saying it was prepared to venture $1.4 billion of its own money and relying on obtaining the remainder of the funding from a 35-year loan from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program provided by the Federal Railroad Administration.
In March 2013, however, two leading Republican legislators, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling the federal government’s loans to complete the project a risky application of taxpayer money. Four months later the loan was suspended indefinitely.
Las Vegas-based XpressWest, a subsidiary of Marnell Corrao Associates, led by chief operating officer Andrew Mack, for two years has kept the proposal, which underwent environmental review starting in 2010 and included the release of the final environmental impact statement on April 1, 2011 and the federal government’s approval of the design on July 8, 2011, alive, though there was no indication of how the project was to be financed.
On September 17, the state-run Xinhua News Agency in China reported that Shu Guozeng, a senior official with China’s Financial and Economic Affairs Department announced a joint venture between XpressWest and China Railway International. To facilitate the international merger, a company, China Railway International USA CO, had been formed Guozeng said.
XpressWest followed up with an announcement of its own, saying the China Railway International USA CO/XpressWest joint effort will cover both construction and operation of the line once it is built. A connection to the line will originate in Palmdale, with the westernmost portion of the through-line involving placing the track within a significant portion of the 63-mile long, east-west multi-modal transportation passageway between Highway 14 in Palmdale and Highway 18 in Apple Valley. Tickets will run as high as $100, XpressWest said.
According to Mack, once the train is in place there is no doubt it will have a ready market, as it will eliminate the stress of a more than five hour vehicle commute to and five hour commute back for most Southern California visitors to Sin City. In July, Mack told Victorville city officials the project would reduce traffic jams on Interstate 15.
The Palmdale to Victorville rail leg of the High Desert Corridor will not be a part of the XpressWest Project per se but will hook up with it as will future bus routes and train routes from Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and lower San Bernardino counties. Trains will depart from Victorville to Las Vegas every 20 to 30 minutes.
The Xinhua News Agency reported that one-sixty-sixth of the capital to complete the project – $100 million – had been secured in investments and that regulatory and commercial activities were expected to begin within the next 100 days.
“As China’s first high-speed railway project in the United States, the project will be a landmark in overseas investment for the Chinese railway sector and serve as a model of international cooperation,” said Yang Zhongmin, chairman of China Railway International Co., Ltd., according to the Xinhua News Agency.
A meeting involving China Railway International, Victorville officials, California officials along with Mack and other XpressWest corporate officers is expected to take place by October.

Confrontation Intensifies Over Soliciting At Hall Of Records

San Bernardino County’s efforts to crack down on those who some county officials claim are soliciting business on county property escalated this and last week, with the county employing its code enforcement division to enforce its recently enacted anti-solicitation ordinance.
Traditionally, in Southern California, the halls of records and recorder’s offices for the various counties have been magnets for businesses which offer registration, licensing, filing, notary or legal noticing or advertising services to businesses, banks, real estate companies or those purchasing property who must record documents or apply for permits and licenses.
San Bernardino County is no exception.
Well after some other jurisdictions took up and failed in their actions to restrict public activities around their government facilities, the county of San Bernardino has embarked on its own effort to regulate or ban entirely such businesses from approaching those who have come to its central Hall of Records, currently located at 222 Hunts Lane, off Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino. More than two decades ago, such an effort in Los Angeles County was challenged, resulting in a court decision by the California Fourth Court of Appeal, in the case of People vs. Tisbert, which declared the enforcement of anti-solicitation restrictions on county property is “unconstitutionally overbroad.”
Nevertheless, San Bernardino County this summer, having never before sought to restrict the activity of the public at its facilities, had its board of supervisors take up a new ordinance, Ordinance 4282, at its July 28 meeting, giving the ordinance a second reading and final vote of passage on August 11. Ordinance 4282 prohibits soliciting at any county facilities. Though the language in the ordinance does not limit the prohibition to any single county building or department, Terry Thompson, the county’s director of real estate services, submitted a report that accompanied the item on the board agenda on July 28 which stated “There have been some issues at county facilities, including aggressive solicitation of county patrons at the Hall of Records. The adoption of this ordinance will add Chapter 30 to Division 1 of Title 4 of the San Bernardino County Code to prohibit solicitation to market or advertise products, services, or property by any person, association, body politic, group or other entity on county property. The chapter would apply whether in the unincorporated or incorporated area of the county.”
Many of those who market services to patrons at the Hall of Records took exception to the county’s action, and have stated that making contact with those in need of their services at the county facility where large numbers of registrants and applicants are congregated is both logical and in the mutual interest of the patrons and those rendering the services.
Last week, the day after Ordinance 4282 went into effect, county code enforcement officers came to the Hall of Records and cited at least four people in front of the building with soliciting.
Rather than desist or back down, however, many of the private sector service providers who work the area around the Hall of Records remained in place, in some cases carrying placards or signs protesting the county’s action, asserting their rights of assembly, speech, and free trade were being violated.
This week, in an apparent effort to ratchet up the pressure on solicitors, county officials brought in the San Bernardino Police Department and then the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Officers with both of those agencies, however, declined to engage in any enforcement activity.
Christian Hughes is an employee of one of companies offering services near and around the Hall of Records. Hughes works for the California New Business Bureau, which has offices in Norwalk in Los Angeles County, Santa Ana in Orange County and San Bernardino in San Bernardino County, offering a full line of services to start-up and existing businesses with regard to filing for corporation or partnership status, permits, licenses, establishing trademarks, registering and other applications with regard to operating a business. A major line of service at the company’s San Bernardino location, which is located across the parking lot from the county’s Hall of Records, is assisting those applying for fictitious business names in the county recorder’s office.
The California New Business Bureau’s proximity to the Hall of Records and its practice of stationing its employees near the county facility and approaching those going into or coming out of the recorder’s office, which is located on the ground floor of Hall of Records, has put it at the forefront of the controversy and confrontation over Ordinance 4282 and its enforcement.
“They are not letting us do what we have always done, which is offer our services to people who are going through the county’s application and filing processes,” Hughes said. “Many of the people who go into the county building to take out papers to start a business, or make applications for various licensing have never been through the process before. We help them with that. I can’t tell you how many people our company, the California New Business Bureau, has helped in starting a business, but it is a lot, in the thousands. Now the county is saying we can’t do that anymore.”
Hughes said “They are saying we can’t peaceably assemble and pass out business cards or show people how they can make the legal notice the county is requiring them to do in newspaper. We hand out newspapers and show people where the legal notice and classified ad sections are. The county is telling us we can’t do that.”
On Tuesday, September 22, Hughes said, a county code enforcement officer came to the Hall of Records premises and order him to take down a protest sign he had erected on public property in the area leading from the parking lot to the entrance at 222 Hunts Lane. Hughes refused. The code enforcement officer then instructed one of the county’s paid security guards remove the sign. The security guard refused to do so. Hughes pointed out that though the code enforcement officer called upon others to take the sign down, he did not do so himself. “He knew that would be against the law,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he would remain on the scene, despite the pressure he was being subjected to.
“We have the right to free speech and the right to assemble in public,” Hughes said. “With all the problems in the county, real code violations and illegal activity like drug dealing and property destruction going on, I have to hope that eventually they will leave honest people who are trying to work and help people and make an honest dollar alone, and go enforce codes that will do some good.”
Yesterday, on September 24, district attorney’s investigators came into the California New Business Bureau’s San Bernardino office and questioned employees there about their business practices. The investigators did not have a warrant. The investigators then travelled to Los Angeles County, where, again without a warrant, they questioned employees at the California New Business Bureau’s Norwalk office.
A district attorney’s office spokesman declined to field questions about the matter.

Charter Committee Recommending SB Radically Redesign Government Structure

By Mark Gutglueck
The manner of governance in the county seat is due for a significant change, the chairman of charter reform committee that was created last year told the San Bernardino City Council on Monday.
Of California’s 482 cities, 361 of them are general law municipalities, guided by a common set of rules of governmental operation which provides for five council members headed by a mayor, who employ a city manager to run the city and appoint, designate or allow the election of a city clerk and city attorney. The other 121 California cities are charter cities, which have a set of operating guidelines specific to each particular municipality.
San Bernardino is one of the state’s charter cities. Its charter and amendments thereto, per state law, are approved by the city’s voters. Its charter is a very comprehensive one and though not unique in all of its respects, peculiar in many regards, with some very rare provisions. For example, San Bernardino is one of only eleven cities in the state which has an elected city attorney. Furthermore, the city attorney is empowered to weigh in on, though not vote on, policy matters. The San Bernardino mayor has an uncommon blend of administrative authority and alternatingly limited and extensive political reach. Per the charter, he has nearly as much say in running the city as the city manager. As a member of the council, however, he is empowered to preside over meetings, and set the agenda and control the ebb and flow of discussion, but does not have the power to vote, unless the first vote of his colleagues ends in a tie, in which case he is entrusted with the power to vote and break the deadlock. San Bernardino is one of 154 California cities with an elected city clerk.
After years of deteriorating finances, the city of San Bernardino filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in 2012. City officials maintain that in attempting to deal with the city’s financial challenges, they have been hamstrung in many respects by provisions contained in the city charter.
Former Mayor Patrick Morris, who was mayor from 2006 until last year, has claimed that a major factor in the city’s fiscal deterioration is excessive salaries and benefits provided to city employees and retirees. A provision put into the San Bernardino charter by means of a citywide vote in 1939 – known as Section 186 – requires that the city’s public safety employees – firefighters and police officers – be paid on a scale equal to the average pay of police officers and firefighters in ten similarly-sized California cities. Morris railed against that provision, but did not have the legal authority to suspend it.
Carey Davis, an accountant by profession and a political ally to Morris, succeeded Morris last year after defeating Wendy McCammack, a former councilwoman who had long championed generous pay increases for municipal safety employees.
As one of his first acts in office, Davis called for the creation of a municipal commission to consider charter changes. In Spring 2014, the charter revision committee was formed. Each of the council’s seven members was empowered to name one registered voter from their respective wards to serve on the committee and Davis was provided with two appointments to the panel, including one culled from the city’s business community. Ward 1 Councilwoman Virginia Marquez selected Casey Daily for the committee, Ward 2 Councilman Benito Barrios chose Dennis Baxter, Ward 3 Councilman John Valdivia appointed Gary Walbourne, Ward 4 Councilman Fred Shorett selected Hillel Cohn, Ward 5 Councilman Henry Nickel chose Michael Craft, Ward 6 Councilman Rikke Van Johnson brought in Hardy Brown and Ward 7 Councilman James Mulvihill tapped Philip Savage. Davis selected Thomas Pierce and Dan Carlone. Savage was then chosen as the committee chairman.
On Monday, Savage came before the city council to inform its members and the public of the committee’s general direction so far and its preliminary recommendations as to the altering of the charter.
Collectively, Savage said, the committee has concluded that “the current charter impairs the basic management function of San Bernardino. No city in California functions like San Bernardino,” where “mixed” responsibilities and lines of authority are creating a malaise and confusion of governance, he said. San Bernardino’s system is, Savage said, “neither a council/manager form of government nor a strong mayor” system that presents “crippling ambiguities with respect to authority of the city manager, mayor and council. The elected city attorney is highly unusual in California cities, and in San Bernardino is vested with the right to provide policy recommendations. San Bernardino’s charter has been amended over 25 times, but almost 50 amendments have failed.
The charter has required over 200 city attorney opinions to interpret its ambiguous provisions,” he said. The overlapping of “the authority of the city manager and mayor and city council,” Savage said, has led to a situation in which “everyone is in charge so no one is in charge.”
Savage said the committee was proposing formulating a “skeleton” charter that would form the basis for an ultimate charter redraft that would involve council and citizen input over the next seven or eight months, allowing for the presentation of a recommended new charter to the mayor and council by next April or May so the new document, essentially a new constitution for the city, can be provided to city voters at the November 2016 election.
Savage implied that the existing charter is out of date. “Modern-era charters are clear, concise, and provide maximum flexibility to elected and appointed officials to operate the government efficiently and effectively,” he said. “City governance structure should be proven, clear and transparent.”
Savage then laid out the committee’s preliminary recommendations that the new charter provide for a “council-manager form of government in which the council’s “powers are limited to legislative and policy making, not administrative or managerial” functions and in which the “mayor no longer has independent administrative, appointment or removal powers and the city manager functions as the city’s chief executive officer, responsible for daily operations.”
The city manager, Savage said, would be “appointed by a majority vote of the mayor and council.” In addition, Savage said, under the committee’s recommendation, “the mayor has the same voting privileges as council members and would no longer be limited to breaking ties. This eliminates the need for mayoral veto power and eliminates the need for council override power.”
Savage said the mayor would remain “the key face and chief spokesperson for the city, and would establish and maintain partnerships and regional leadership, and serve as presiding officer at meetings, while fully participating in council discussions.” And, he said, “The city manager would be responsible for appointment or removal of all department heads. The city attorney is to be appointed by the mayor and council, not elected. The city clerk would be appointed by the mayor and council, not elected.”
Given that the mayor would take on full voting power, the city would need to eliminate one of its seven wards, most likely over two election cycles, so that there would be an odd number of votes on the council to head off the possibility of deadlocked 4-4 votes, Savage said.
Savage then lightly brushed over a key change – the removal of such provisions as Section 186 or any other elements of the current charter which make commitments to the maintenance of certain city departments or pay scales for employees – which a majority of the city’s elected officials and its top administrators believe are preventing the city from engaging in economic and managerial reforms to allow the city to overcome its financial problems.
“Departments will not be specifically mentioned in the charter,” Savage said.
Councilman Henry Nickel, who along with councilman John Valdivia, represents the minority faction on the council committed to protecting the city’s public safety employees and the entitlements in the current charter devoted to sustaining their pay and civil service protections at levels comparable to that provided to police officers and firefighters in other cities, sought to break the momentum of the headlong rush to dismantle the current charter by suggesting that the charter reform committee’s domination of the process was “elitist” and that the city’s residents needed to be brought in to participate in the charter redrafting.
“We need a robust public engagement component of the charter reform movement,” Nickel said.
Savage said he was in agreement with that sentiment but that in a city with a population of 213,708, just 384 residents had provided responses to the survey on the charter that the committee had put out. “We need to get the public more interested in the issues involved in the charter reform,” Savage said. “The vast majority of the city’s residents don’t know or care about the charter at all.”
He offered his view that having ill-informed city residents participating the process would not be productive. “Education of the populace is critical,” he said.
City attorney Gary Saenz told the Sentinel he concurred in the view that the position he was elected to in the balloting that accompanied the 2013 recall of former city attorney Jim Penman should not be an elected one.
“I have never been an advocate of an elected city attorney,” Saenz said. “The city attorney’s role should be a non-political one. I don’t think the city attorney should be involved in policy making. I think the better approach is to have a neutral city attorney who isn’t trying to influence policy but is focused on protecting the interests of the city, based upon interpreting the law. I think the city attorney should be an appointed position in which the holder serves as a legal officer.”
Savage said it is the committee’s goal to “hold a public forum to gather public input on charter skeleton; develop details for charter document” in October and November and “provide another progress report to the mayor and council and complete details for the charter document” by January or February. By April, he said, he wanted his committee to “provide a written report and recommendations, including specific charter language to the mayor and council.” He said the mayor and council would then have an opportunity to decide on the ballot measure to put before voters, noting the County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpisi must receive the ballot measure resolution 88 days before election day, meaning it would need to be provided to him by August 1, 2016 to make the November 8, 2016 ballot.

Highland Council Rejects Project Approval Challenge

The Highland City Council this week denied an appeal by residents on Aplin Street and North Fork Road of the planning commission’s approval of Diversified Pacific’s 70-residential unit Orchard project on roughly 27 acres south of Water Street between Aplin Street and North Fork Road.
The planning commission approved the project in June.
The project site currently contains remnants of an orange grove, an abandoned single-family residence, an occupied single-family residence and small accessory structures typical of single-family residential use.
Represented by an attorney. the appellants requested that Aplin Street not be completed through to Water Street, that a stop sign be installed on Aplin Street to control traffic, that the planned elevation of the new homes be changed to keep from obstructing the views from the existing residences. They further asserted the project had not been properly examined for traffic and environmental concerns.
City staff, however, offered its conclusion that the objections and voiced concerns were sufficient to derail the project.
Residents on Aplin Street, which ends in a cul-de-sac, asked that the cul-de-sac remain in place. Staff, however, said this request should be denied because, “The existing cul-de-sac on Aplin Street was designed and constructed as a temporary cul-de-sac.”
Another concern related to the hazard an increase in traffic represented to children attending nearby Cram Elementary School.
Staff, however, in a report to the council, stated that Diversified Pacific “met directives related to traffic calming on Aplin Street provided by the planning commission. “
The appellants noted that a condition for the completion of the project required Diversified Pacific to construct a 12-foot wide community trail on Aplin Street. Residents of the new tract will be required, the appellants said, “to back over the trail to get onto Aplin Street,” which the appellants said would be “a safety issue to people walking on the trail.” Staff responded by saying the trail would be constructed “in accordance with city trail standards. Typical to all residential areas throughout the city, residents
are required to back their vehicles across sidewalks to access the streets
fronting their homes. Both the motorists and the pedestrians are expected to exercise appropriate caution where the driveways cross the sidewalks. The proposed trail on Aplin Street is similar to a sidewalk and the same caution is expected.”
Staff said some burrowing owls did inhabit the project site and that Diversified Pacific would be required to relocate the birds if their nests were disturbed.
After considering the appeal by the residents, the city council upheld the planning commission approval, endorsing a staff finding that “The 71 lots meet all of the minimum size and dimension requirements specified within the Highland Municipal Code. The lots range in size from 10,000 square feet to 20,863 square feet with an overall density of 2.61 dwelling units per acre.”
Any further issues with regard to the design process for the project will be hashed out at future planning commission meetings, staff assured the council.

Judge Orders SB To Meet And Confer With Firefighters’ Union Prior To Outsourcing

The failure of the city of San Bernardino’s top officials to forthrightly disclose to negotiators with the bargaining unit for the city’s firefighters that they intended to close out the fire department and have an outside agency or entity provide fire safety service to the city presents a wrinkle in the city’s outsourcing plan approved by the city council last month, a federal judge has ruled.
After a decade of acutely deteriorating circumstances, San Bernardino filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in August 2012. The city’s filing was overseen by Federal Judge Meredith Jury. From the outset of the bankruptcy proceedings, Jury has proven highly indulgent of the city, which has been working to overcome and fight its way back from $180 million in ongoing unfunded liabilities and a $49 million annual operating deficit. Even as CalPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System, opposed the bankruptcy and the unions for the police officers and firefighters protested many of the measures city officials latched onto in an effort to right the city’s listing financial ship, Jury allowed the city to proceed, consistently ruling with minor exceptions that the city could change the terms of its existing contracts and defer or reduce payments to its creditors and vendors until the city could get back on its financial feet.
One stratagem the city embraced was outsourcing the fire department by creating a fire assessment district that would overlay and be coterminous with the city limits and have the county fire division take on responsibility for providing fire protection service in the 59.6 square mile, 213,708-population county seat. The city council resolved to do just that on August 24, more than two-and-a-half months after the city had presented its bankruptcy exit plan to Jury on May 30. According to San Bernardino City Manager Allen Parker, the outsourcing/fire assessment district formation would provide the city with a $12 million inroad against its deficit spending problem.
But Jury, who last year tossed out the existing contract between firefighters’ union and the city, giving the city authority to impose a new contract not agreed to by the firefighting rank and file and also allowed the city to mandate that firefighters pay the retirement contributions that the city until January 2013 paid toward the firefighters’ pensions, last week entered a rare ruling in favor of the firefighters’ union, which had gone to court to protest the outsourcing.
Jury made a determination on September 17 that the city had not negotiated with the fire union before outsourcing the fire department. Now San Bernardino has to engage in a meet-and-confer process with the firefighters’ union before it can implement the fire service outsourcing.
Using its authority, the city council in August voted to dispense with the fire department as a city division, contract with the county fire department to have its personnel man the city’s fire stations and annex the entirety of the city into a county fire district that will impose on home and business owners a parcel tax. The city stands to see savings garnered from the lower costs associated with having the county deliver fire protection service rather than in-house through the existing municipal fire department. Further, the revenue to the county to be generated as a consequence of the fire district assessments will then be used to cover the cost of delivering fire service, and alleviate the city and its general fund of that burden. Through those two factors, San Bernardino officials anticipate a per year savings in the neighborhood of $12 million, a major stride toward eliminating the city’s deficit.
But the firefighters’ union, represented by attorney Corey Glave, has asserted that the city was obliged to disclose in full detail what it intended to do with regard to the future provision of fire protection service and that it had not done so. Moreover, Glave suggested, the city had actively misrepresented what it was intending to do and misled the firefighters’ union.
Last year, prior to the imposition of new employment contract terms on the firefighters, Parker and the city’s labor attorney, Linda Daube, repeatedly stated that contracting out for fire service was not an option the city was pursuing.
Jury said that with the imposition of new terms foisted on the firefighters and their union by the city last year and which she had allowed because of the city’s need to structure itself out of bankruptcy, the city had committed to those terms. Moving beyond those terms – which involves a city owned and operated fire department – obviates the “free pass” Jury said she had given the city to change contract. At this point, in altering the situation once more by dissolving the fire department, Jury said, the city must now engage in the meet and confer process with the firefighters’ union.
“Once they have changed the terms and conditions of employment,” Jury said, “they have created then a new status quo, and if they want to modify it further, then they have to modify it under state law, which would require bargaining with the union.”
Jury expressed skepticism about the city’s claim that it had made disclosure of its outsourcing plans, noting that the city council authorized Parker to seek fire service proposals from outside agencies and entities during a closed session and that California’s open public meeting statute – the Brown Act – outlines a protocol by which such decisions are made in open rather than closed sessions. She said the city had kept the action secret and did not disclose it until it was brought up by the fire union several months later.
“The timing of this… is disturbing,” Jury said.
What is unclear to outsiders is what, precisely, of substance can now be discussed during the meet and confer process, now that the city council has voted to go forward with the outsourcing.
San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz this week told the Sentinel, “Primarily, those discussions will be with respect to the impact on individual members of the union as relates to outsourcing and the annexation to a county fire assessment district. The focus is to be how this will impact the firefighters. We are scheduled to have a telephone conference on Monday with Judge Jury to let her know what dates have been set for that conferring between the fire union and the city. I believe we will have five or six sessions over the next several weeks and the meet and confer process will have concluded by the end of October.”
Issues he anticipated to be brought up during the meet and confer sessions, Saenz said, will likely pertain to “ensuring each of the firefighters will have an opportunity to transition into the county fire service at as close of rank as is possible to their rank with the city and at a compensation that is as close to what they are receiving at the city, to the extent the county has the ability to do that.”
Saenz said it is likely the city’s current firefighting personnel below the rank of battalion chief will be accepted into positions with the county, based upon each individual firefighter’s “ability to meet the county’s physical, health, medical and drug testing qualifications. Those will have to be met as a minimum requirement for them to be hired. Those conditions will be consistent with the requirements the county has of all of its firefighters.”
Saenz said the meet and confer process between the city and the union will take place simultaneously with the city’s ongoing negotiations with the county over the fire service takeover.
“Judge Jury allowed the city to keep negotiating for the transition while the meet and confer process is taking place,” Saenz said.
Saenz clarified that the creation of the fire service assessment district will take place under the supervision of the Local Agency Formation Commission, known by its acronym LAFCO, and will most likely not involve a voting process at precinct voting stations but rather will entail a protest vote opportunity in which the city’s landowners will be afforded a temporal window within which they can protest the formation of the district by means of a mail-in ballot. If fifty percent plus one of those landowners mail in objections to the district’s formation before the elapsing of the deadline to submit those objections, Saenz said, the district formation will not take place. In the history of California, no denial of an assessment district by mail-in protest ballot has ever occurred. If between 25 percent and fifty percent of the city’s landowners register a protest, then a vote at precinct voting stations will be held.
“The LAFCO process involves a protest vote,” said Saenz. “If enough voters protest, that would mean the whole issue would either fail or go to another vote. If over fifty percent protest, the fire district annexation will not take place. If anywhere from 25 percent to fifty percent protest, it will go to the voters.” Saenz said the overwhelming odds were that the city’s residents would “accept the annexation. Chances are very small that it will fail. We have very low voter turnout in San Bernardino and I think that is an indication that rejection is not going to happen. The board of supervisors has agreed unanimously to apply to LAFCO for the annexation and the LAFCO board has agreed, I think also unanimously, to accept the application. Things at this point are looking good.”
Saenz said he did not believe that the firefighters union would mount an effort to block the fire assessment district creation, either. “We are going into our meet and confer process with them with an open mind,” he said. “The rank and file has been in opposition to some other things the city has attempted, where not only the union members but their wives and children showed up at council meetings to make a show of disapproval. They are not doing that with this, because this can be beneficial to all, including the firefighters. I don’t think there will be many standing in opposition to this.”

Have Mike Ramos And Mary Ashley Patched It Up? Conflicting Reports

Are the district attorney and the assistant district attorney still an item? That is the question.
Last year, district attorney Mike Ramos promoted supervising deputy district attorney Mary Ashley to the position of assistant district attorney – the second highest ranking position in the office. Ashley was elevated to the post despite the far more impressive qualifications and experience of more than a dozen other prosecutors in the office.
That move instantaneously provoked grumbling throughout the organization, as it had previously been widely reported that Ramos and Ashley had been having an affair for several years, during which time she had earlier been granted plum assignments based on her relationship with her boss.
Indeed, just as word of the office reorganization that accompanied Ashley’s promotion was making the rounds last November, John Kochis, a 35-year veteran of the prosecutor’s office universally considered by his colleagues as the most deserving and logical choice for promotion to assistant district attorney were such an opening to come available, announced his retirement.
Despite the resentment of many in the office and the
perception that Ramos has created a standard under which competence, dedication, expertise and merit are secondary criteria to maintaining a personal relationship with him, his status as the elected district attorney empowered him to run the office as he saw fit and promote his employees based on standards of his own choosing.
Ramos’s penchant for womanizing has long been widely known and even acknowledged, having been the subject of press reports which cataloged his affairs with over a dozen women, including three of his own deputy prosecutors other than Ashley, two of his office’s evidence technicians and two of his office’s clerks. Despite the scandalizing effect of these revelations, Ramos for the most part managed to keep the potential trouble inherent in such office liaisons from manifesting, at least in part because some of those with whom he was linked succeeded in using their relationship with their boss to promote themselves professionally.
Inevitably, one of those entanglements played out badly when Cheryl Ristow, an evidence technician with whom he had been carrying on for 18 months in 2003, 2004 and 2005, sued him in 2009, alleging she was being retaliated against in the workplace in the aftermath of her decision to end the relationship with Ramos. Though Ristow did not prevail in her suit alleging she was being singled out for retribution, the county ran up a $140,000 bill to have a Santa Monica-based law firm compile a tortuously-worded report that neither confirmed nor denied the sexual nature of the relationship between Ramos and his employees while justifying the disciplining of Ristow. In the course of that litigation, a bevy of sordid and salacious details about the affair between Ramos and Ristow made their way into the court record and were publicly revealed.
Earlier this year, a repeat of the reproach created by the dissolution of the sexual bond between Ramos and Ristow from six years before appeared imminent, as reports of a breakup between Ramos and Ashley, who were previously said to be cohabiting, were circulating. Members of the office said they detected signs that the relationship between their boss and Ashley had suddenly deteriorated, sundering the chain of command at the top of the organization, creating difficulty in sustaining the normal lines of communication in the office. This appeared to be reflected in the discontinuation of the occasional sightings of the couple at various public locations where they had been witnessed previously. One report was that Ramos was on the verge of demoting Ashley or firing her outright, but that he retreated from that option because of concern that in doing so he might trigger a sexual discrimination lawsuit which would be even more difficult to fend off than the one brought against him, the office and the county by Ristow.
Earlier this week, following a published report this month about Ramos and Ashley’s uncoupling, the Sentinel was contacted by a well-placed and reliable source who reported that the account appeared to be in error. On the evening of September 3, the Sentinel was told, Ramos and Ashley had dinner together at the Chili’s restaurant in Redlands. This ran counter to the gist of the Sentinel article, which strongly suggested that Ramos and Ashley were on the outs.
Rechecking with sources still in place within the district attorney’s office on September 21, the Sentinel was told that as published, the article was accurate and that Ramos and Ashley are no longer together.
Efforts to get a clarification from the parties directly involved – Ramos and Ashley – as well as the district attorney’s office’s official spokesman, Christopher Lee, were unfruitful.

County Hires Aggressive Fundraiser To Lead Museum

San Bernardino County has hired the former executive director of the Western Museums Association to serve as the director of the San Bernardino County Museum.
Melissa A. Russo, who over the past six years has been the director of institutional advancement at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, will begin as the county museum director on Monday, October 19.
She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from UCLA and a master’s degree in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She was an adjunct faculty member in museum studies with John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, the executive director of the Pardee Musuem and Foundation in Oakland and the registrar at the Glessner House Museum in Chicago
She is married to John Russo, who has been Riverside’s city manager since May and was city manager of Alameda for four years prior to coming to Riverside and before that served as the elected city attorney of Oakland for 11 years and Oakland city councilman for nearly six years.
The couple has 16-year-old twins.
Melissa Russo, who also uses the name Melissa Rosengard, has touted her fundraising skills, which in the context of the Bay Area were boosted as a consequence of her husband’s various governmental and political positions. She now finds herself in a somewhat similar circumstance, as San Bernardino and Riverside counties are contiguous and intrinsic elements of the Inland Empire, such that there is considerable financial, governmental, entrepreneurial and social overlap between the two jurisdictions.
Russo’s arrival comes after a string of setbacks for the museum, which has lost its accreditation, suffered budget cuts imposed on it by the county, endured declining attendance, and the resignations of museum director Robert McKernan and senior historic curator Michele Nielsen, accompanied by the losses of the museum’s curators of education, anthropology, geological and biological sciences. Revenue at the facility declined by 63 percent between 2010 and 2014. Over the last year, interim museum director Leonard Hernandez ushered in a number of exhibits and promotional programs which resulted in an attendance increase during fiscal year 2014-15 of 32 percent.
The museum recently hired history and anthropology curators and is actively seeking a biological sciences curator. The San Bernardino County Museum Association intends to seek reaccreditation in 2017. The San Bernardino County Museum extends to its main museum campus in Redlands, the Victor Valley Museum in Apple Valley, and historic sites in Chino, Colton, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands and Yucaipa.
In her interview with the museum association, Russo said she believes the museum can be rejuvenated through a new operational model and by investing in modernized interactive features that will make it more accessible and appreciated by children and adults.

Forum… Or Against ‘em

Yet another chapter in the Haggen/Albertston’s mutual dance of destruction has gone into the book. Yesterday, Haggen corporate officials announced the company is abandoning its far too ambitious program of operating 146 stores it acquired from Albertson’s and Vons in a deal closed at the tail end of last year and actuated in the late winter and spring of this year…
In my life, grocery stores are not a big factor. Up here in Lake Arrowhead, we have Jensen’s Market and Stater Bros. I don’t do the shopping anyway, and I can’t tell you the last time I was in one of those places. But I understand that for most people, they are a major part of their existences. Most people don’t hunt for their meals anymore or operate a farm. Grocery stores have taken the place of all that. They are big business…
When you talk about business, there is small business and big business. I suppose there is even a third class, medium business. Within the class of big business, there are subdivisions: there is big business and really big business. Haggen, which is based in Bellingham,Washington, last year was at the lower end of the scale when we talk about big business. It consisted of a chain of 16 supermarkets in the Pacific Northwest, that is, the states of Washington and Oregon. They were large stores, as stores go, full service ones with butcher counters and extensive produce sections, a generous selection of all kinds of foods of different brands. Most even had pharmacies. Haggen had a good model suited to its customer base and it did well…
But then – what should I call it? – the insanity, the foolishness, the stupidity started. Cerberus Capital Management, the private investment company that owns Albertsons, purchased Safeway, Vons’ parent company, for about $9.2 billion. As part of the Federal Trade Commission’s approval of the deal, Vons and Albertson’s were being forced by the Federal Trade Commission because of anti-trust considerations to divest themselves of a large number of their stores. Thinking it was getting a bargain, Haggen in December 2014 closed a deal by which it was to pick up 146 stores from Albertson’s and Vons, including 83 California ones.
Haggen began the physical takeover of the Albertson’s and Vons stores in March, continuing the transition in April and May. Even before the transitions were fully effectuated, disputes erupted between Albertsons and Haggen. According to Albertsons, Haggen had agreed to pay almost $41 million for the inventory at 38 of the former Albertsons stores. Haggen did not make good on that commitment. In June, Haggen, informed Albertson’s that it believed Albertson’s had violated certain tenets of the purchase agreement and was out of compliance with anti-trust provisions of the U.S. Code. The company implied, but did not directly state, that the withholding of the nearly $41 million in payments for that inventory was due to those violations…
In July, Albertsons filed a lawsuit in federal court against Haggen, accusing the company of fraud in failing to pay more than $36 million toward inventory at 32 stores and almost $5 million in inventory at an another six stores. Albertson’s stated in the suit that Haggen had duplicitously waited until the deals relating to the sale of all 146 stores closed before notifying Albertson’s in writing it was withholding payment for the inventory. Albertson’s charged that Haggen’s ostensible reasons for withholding the payment relating to “issues occurring during the acquisition process” were “baseless,” Albertson’s accused Haggen of “acts [that] were fraudulent in nature and done with malice and a willful disregard for Albertsons’ rights.”
In August, Haggen, hemorrhaging red ink, moved to close 16 of its supermarkets in Southern California and two more in Central California as a means of saving itself. In the meantime, it began laying off employees left and right at the stores it was attempting to keep open and then, inevitably, declared bankruptcy…
This week, Haggen let it be known it is pulling out of the Southwest market entirely – and will apparently close all of the stores it has acquired in California, Nevada Arizona. It will keep 21 of the Albertson’s and Vons stores in Washington and Oregon it took on.
As I said, I am not too interested in groceries or grocery stores, but the Haggen/Albertson’s debacle amuses me no end, when it doesn’t have me very angry about the way some people foolishly squander money and opportunity…
As I said, there is big business and then there is really big business. I know something about it. I used to own ships. Actually, I still do, just not as many as I used to and I don’t manage their operation anymore. Ships are big business. They cost a lot of money to build. They cost a lot of money to operate. They cost a lot of money to maintain. They even cost a lot of money when they are not being operated, and are just sitting in a port someplace. I never owned as many ships as Ari Onassis. I never owned as many as George Steinbrenner. But I had a respectable number of them, At any given time in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, I had a ship either in, on its way to, or coming from New York, Buenos Aires, Cullen, Caleta Cardova, Arica, San Vicente, Iquique, Pacem, Paranaqua, Abu Qir, Alexandria, Puerto de Caldera, Freeport, Adelaide, Dijbouti, Halifax, Piraeus, Dalvik, Bari, Napoli, Ravenna, Marseille, Brest, Arachon, Khasab, Haifa, Liverpool, Southampton, Miami, Charleston, Galveston, Cartagena, Algaceris, Seville, Barcelona, Valencia, Faro, Lisbon, da Corvo, Amsterdam and Den Heider. There were plenty of times when I could have used another ship because cargo someone wanted delivered yesterday was sitting on a dock or in a warehouse where I would not be able to get to as quickly as they wanted. I was tempted, from time to time, to get more tonnage than I needed. I never gave into the temptation, though. I usually bought, or in some cases sold, my ships, one at a time. There were only two exceptions to that which I can recall. Once I picked up four freighters down in Douala when a Belgian company went out of business after its owner was killed in a plane crash. His widow wanted to liquidate the fleet and I got them at a really good price. Another time I bought a freighter and a reefer ship of Panamanian registry from a Canadian. I never – and I mean never – contemplated leapfrogging from the 26 ships I owned to 70 or 80 ships to put myself in the class with Onassis. I would never have considered buying ten ships in one go. I was big, but if I got bigger too fast, my span of control would have eluded me and I would have crashed, and crashed hard…
So, how did Haggen’s ownership and executives – the same ones who built the chain into a successful, service oriented company that was prospering in its niche – the populated areas of Washington and Oregon – of a sudden decide to be incompetent? How did a collection of sensible, hardworking, bright people, all on the same page, just decide to bite off more than they could chew, collectively, and then nearly choke to death? What gave rise to their unrealistic ambition? Why would a company that had mastered its market in its region leap into another region, comprised of a radically different demographic and exhibiting a far different purchasing pattern, essentially sight unseen? Buying one or two or maybe even five or six stores – equal to one third of Haggen’s chain – was a risk perhaps worth pursuing, especially if those stores were in Oregon or Washington or Northern California. But even that represented a risk. Buying 146 stores – more than nine times as many stores as the company was already operating – as far as a thousand miles beyond its existing corporate trade area was sheer madness…
Haggen is now teetering on the brink of extinction, while Albertson’s, which is suffering enough in the public relations and general perception department, now faces both legal and federal regulatory challenges over its contretemps with Haggen…
These things are always tempered with an element of the absurd. In what should be recognized as the understatement of the year, John Clougher, Haggen’s Pacific Northwest Division chief operating officer, said, “This this has been a difficult process and experience.”
After shedding 125 of the California, Nevada and Arizona stores that have now been run into the ground and shuttered, the weight of which is threatening to sink Haggen, Clougher said that from here on out Haggen “will remain concentrated in the Pacific Northwest where we began, focusing on fresh Northwest products and continuing our support and involvement in the communities we serve. Haggen has a long record of success in the Pacific Northwest and these identified stores will have the best prospect for ongoing excellence.”

Albert And Alfred Smiley

By Mark Gutglueck
The Smiley Brothers, Albert and Alfred, are perhaps the most prominent of Redlands’ historical figures. Nevertheless, the mark they made is even more pronounced in New York and in the arena of International Relations.
Born identical twins on St. Patrick’s Day in 1828 into a Quaker family in Vassalboro, Maine, Alfred Homans Smiley and Albert Keith Smiley were sixty years old before they even set foot in Redlands. Early in life they took delight in their visual similarity, as not even their mother, Phoebe, could distinguish them from one another. They purposefully set about confusing people and playing jokes on them by misidentifying themselves as one another. Their father, Daniel Smiley, was himself an identical twin who had engaged in the same antics when he was a child with his brother, Asa, and he encouraged them in this mischief.
According to A. Keith Smiley, a grandson of the twins’ half-brother Daniel, “When they were in New England, the twins went out on a double date with sisters named Bean. Albert and Alfred started out with their respective partners. During the evening, however, they slyly switched. The girls never knew the difference.”
People learned in their mature years that they could be distinguished by Albert’s round watch fob and Alfred’s square one. In time, they caught on and exchanged the fobs to perpetuate the confusion.
Born on a farm, the twins, when they were 14 in 1842, resolved to become teachers. In accordance with the academic standards of the time, they studied Latin and Greek, drilling each other in the dead languages while doing chores on their father’s farm. They attended Haverford College, a Quaker institution near Philadelphia, graduating in 1849. Even before graduation, the college hired them as instructors, with Alfred serving in the capacity of an assistant teacher of mental and moral philosophy. After graduation, he continued to teach in those areas as well as in the disciplines of philosophy and geology from 1851 to 1853. Albert became assistant teacher of English literature and chemistry from 1849 to 1851. In 1851, he was elevated to being a full professor in the same subjects.
When they reached the age of 25 in 1853, the Smiley brothers established an English and Classical Academy in Philadelphia to prepare boys for college. They closed the school in 1856, when Alfred was hired as the principal of the high school and general superintendent of schools in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The two years he was there was the first and longest time during their lives when they were separated.
When Alfred went to Iowa, Albert returned to Vassalboro, Maine, where he took charge of the Oak Grove Seminary, from which the twins had graduated in 1845.
In 1854 Alfred married Rachel Mott Swan of New Sharon, Maine, and their first child, Edward Albert, was born in 1855.
Albert married a few years later, to Eliza Phelps Cornell in 1857.
In 1860 the twins embarked on another effort together again, signing on with the Friend’s School, a semi-collegiate school in Providence, Rhode Island, where they took on administrative and teaching positions
Albert and Eliza’s only child, Annette “Nettie” Smiley, who was born Nov. 6, 1858, died on March 20, 1863, before she was five years old. This proved very difficult for Eliza, who suffered a breakdown in health and resigned her position as associate principal at Friend’s School. She endured delicate health the rest of her life, and never fully recovered from the loss of her only child.
Though Eliza Smiley left the Friend’s School, the twins, their sister Rebecca and Alfred’s wife, Rachel, remained there and were instrumental in turning it into one of the most respected of New England’s preparatory institutions, which was reflected in its growth while the Smileys were employed there, seeing its student body jump from 40 in 1863 to 200 in 1869.
In 1868 Alfred moved his growing family to a farm in New York State, where Albert soon joined him. The property they purchased together covered 115 acres.
In 1869 they purchased a ten-room inn and tavern and the surrounding 279 acres located on the Shawangunk Ridge, a section of the Appalachian Mountains, 90 miles north of New York City in Ulster County, New York. Shortly thereafter, they purchased the whole of nearby Lake Mohonk and on the grounds built the Mohonk Mountain House, a Victorian castle resort which to this day yet overlooks a pristine mountain lake surrounded by thousands of acres of unspoiled natural beauty. Almost immediately and then over succeeding generations, it became a highly valued getaway for generations of travelers.
Alfred went on to start Cliff House in 1879 and Wildmere in 1887, resorts at nearby Minnewaska Lake, with a network of carriage roads connecting them to Mohonk.
In time Mohonk Mountain House came to entail over 70 miles of carriage roads and 40 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, trail running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. It would evolve into a major destination for rock climbers, and now hosts 50,000 climbers each year who can take advantage of more than 1,000 climbing routes.
Five Presidents of the United States have stayed at the resort while they were the country’s chief executive — Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton.
Because they were Quakers, the Smileys dedicated themselves to the cause of peace and used Mohonk Mountain House toward that end. In 1895, Albert Smiley convened the first of 22 annual conferences on international arbitration, held at Mohonk Mountain House. The intent of these convocations was to create a forum for national and international leaders to meet and discuss world problems in an effort to find alternatives to war. The conferences continued through 1916, and included notable attendees such as President William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, and secretaries of state of successive administrations. The conferences, dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution, have been credited with giving impetus to the Hague Conference movement.
Because it was initially a summer resort, Mohonk would close for the winter months, during which repairs, maintenance and preparation for the next season would take place. During one such hiatus in 1887, Alfred’s son Frederick ventured to Southern California and came upon Redlands, with its spectacular view of the San Bernardino Mountains. In 1889, Alfred, suffering from rheumatism, was prevailed upon by his son to sojourn to Redlands to see if the warm climate there might alleviate his symptoms. Soon thereafter, Alfred convinced Albert to join him, and together, they assembled Canyon Crest Park. The Smileys thereafter made Redlands their winter home. The beautiful gardens of the estate they created were open to the public, attracting thousands of tourists each year to the city of Redlands.
Albert and Alfred were famous for their philanthropy and civic service, becoming known as Redlands’ “patron saints.” The twins led the effort to fund and build the A. K. Smiley Memorial Library, donating parks and public spaces and beautifying the growing city of Redlands – giving their fellow citizens opportunities for culture and enjoyment that continue today.
Alfred died at 74 years old, in 1903, in Redlands. Albert died nine years later, also in Redlands.
On December 9, 1986, Mohonk was officially named a National Historic Landmark. The landmark extends beyond the Mountain House to 83 other Mohonk buildings of historic significance, 128 summerhouses or gazebos and the surrounding 7,800 acres of developed and undeveloped land.
In Redlands, Smiley Heights, one of the San Bernardino County’s most affluent neighborhoods, and A.K. Smiley Library, arguably San Bernardino County’s finest library despite being more than a century old, stand as tributes to the Smiley Brothers.