In Longshot Bid, Donna Muñoz Looking To Oust James Ramos

Despite the perception of many that her challenge of incumbent Third District Supervisor James Ramos is a quixotic undertaking, Donna Muñoz said she is driven to take it to its ultimate conclusion because “I still feel a lot of people are left out of the picture.”
Ramos has been supervisor since 2012, having vaulted to that position with a victory that year over then-incumbent Neil Derry.
San Bernardino County’s Third District covers a large span of territory, extending all the way from Barstow at the district’s northwest extreme, through the eastern portion of the San Bernardino Mountains, the Morongo Basin and the most populated portion of the district, which involves Highland, Yucaipa, Redlands, Mentone, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace and the eastern portion of the city of San Bernardino.
Shortly after acceding to office, Ramos turned to Muñoz, a longtime member of the Morongo Unified School District Board of Trustees, to serve as his field representative in the Morongo Valley, a place with which he was not too terribly familiar. In February 2014, Muñoz resigned from that post when she was hired as the Morongo Valley Community Services District’s general manager.
In her challenge of her former boss, Muñoz has engaged in only the mildest of criticisms of him, suggesting that at worst he is somewhat distant from those he represents.
She speaks highly of him in some regards, particularly with respect to his generosity.
“I feel James is a good man,” she said. “He is a kind man. He is putting his own money into worthwhile causes. If I had the funds available, I would do the same.”
Ramos is one of the controlling board members of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which owns and operates the San Manuel Casino. One unverified report has it that James Ramos personally realizes income of approximately $18,000 per day from the casino’s operation – providing him with an income of more than $6.5 million per year. In defeating Derry in 2012, Ramos raised and spent over $400,000, much of it his own money, to promote himself and his candidacy.
Once Ramos was in office, Muñoz said, she did not feel “he spent enough time in the Morongo Basin area. I am not going to say he did not get involved in the Third District, but I feel, like others do, that he did not put in enough time in the outlying areas of the district. I think there is a disconnection between large parts of the Third District and the board of supervisors. I feel that there are issues not being addressed, which is the feeling I had going into this. That still remains strong with me.”
Muñoz said that “Countywide we still have a lot of problems. Crime is supposedly down, but in many areas, including several in the Third District, there is an upswing in certain types of crime such as burglaries. We have problems with homelessness, in all of the communities, really, and in the desert we have a serious problem with what is a different kind of homeless population.”
Despite the personal success Ramos has had with the casino on the San Manuel reservation, Muñoz suggested Ramos was not embracing another Indian gaming proposal near Barstow. “The Barstow area is a very economically depressed one,” Muñoz. “They want that casino, which will be on the route to Las Vegas and Primm. James is kind of wishy-washy when it comes to that. He’s not against it but he’s not really for it, either. They need the money it will bring into that town. I fully support it.”
Muñoz cited a bevy of citizen complaints from a well-to-do neighborhood in Yucaipa where there are an overwhelming number of flies bedeviling residents. She said the flies are emanating from a chicken ranch in the area. The county’s agricultural, vector control and public health divisions should be much more aggressive in meeting that problem, she said.
While acknowledging that allowing an upscale neighborhood to be built in proximity to existing poultry ranches was a major mistake and that the chicken ranchers, who have long been established in the area, should not be scapegoated, she nevertheless said that “The houses are there now. The county needs to take action. I was going door-to-door in that neighborhood passing out my [electioneering] material. I would go onto the porches and people would not open their doors when I tried to hand them my brochures. It was really that bad. There was one young boy there, with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair who couldn’t use his arms to bat the flies away. I feel the county needs to take the bull by the horns and work on that problem, seriously. You have people who live in very nice expensive houses who cannot use their backyards. We can’t shut the farms down, but they should be required to clean up the droppings and engage in disposal and drying, things that could mitigate the problems. Something needs to be done.”
In campaigning, Muñoz said, she is getting out to walk neighborhoods on evenings and on weekends, making contact with residents. She said this is something Ramos should be doing not as part of his campaign to get reelected but as the needed outreach incumbent upon him as supervisor. “I have to work, so I get out on evenings and Saturdays and Sundays, because it is the only time I can meet people. I was in Sugarloaf one Saturday and then again later on. I was told James has never been to Sugarloaf. I think he should have been there at least once in three-and-a-half years. People there, people everywhere want to get to know their supervisor. But I keep hearing from people that nobody knows anything about him. And I would think he would want to get out there, to meet with every organization, wherever they are in his district. I know now that he has been getting out to a lot of places he hasn’t been to before now, because of the campaign. I think the supervisor has to put more time and energy into the job, not just when he is running for office. People want a personal touch from their supervisor. It is a big district but it is not so big that you can’t get out to every community once in a while. It is not like being in the state legislature or Congress where you are flying up to Sacramento or Washington on a constant basis. I think it is important to meet people face-to-face.”
Another problem is the lack of consistent services into the district’s outlying areas, she said.
“In Morongo Valley, the building and safety office is only open two days a week,” she said. “That causes problems for septic operations and contractors. The building and safety office is only open on Mondays and Wednesdays. That means it is closed from Thursday to Monday. If someone wants to get a permit, that is a gap of too many days. They have to wait four days or otherwise drive down to San Bernardino. The courts have been closed in all of the outlying areas. They should be reopened.”
Muñoz said she was concerned with the high salaries being provided to many county workers. “I hear there is a move afoot to bring down county salaries,” she said. “I am interested in that.” She said that in the battle between higher pay for county workers or fuller provision of services to citizens, “the decision should be to improve services.” She pointed out that in her current position as the Morongo Valley Community Services District’s general manager she had taken a pay cut “three times so I did not have to reduce the number of people who work under me.”
Muñoz said she is conducting “a grass roots campaign” against “someone who has a lot of money and power. I’m hoping my message is resonating with people,” she said.
Muñoz began her participation in governmental affairs nearly three decades ago when she was a field representative for Marsha Turoci, the First District county supervisor from 1988 to 1996, when the Morongo Valley was contained within the First District. She was later a field representative for Third District Supervisor Barbara Cram Riordan, after the Morongo Valley was moved into the Third District as a consequence of redistricting. She worked in the county assessor’s office, rising to the position of assistant assessor under former assessor Don Williamson.
Muñoz attended Pasadena City College. In addition to her work in government she worked for Robinson’s Department Store, moving into a management role, and was a Pacific Telephone service representative and manager. She also ran a Sears corporate offshoot, a Sears Dealership Store, which is an outlet located in a small community. She assisted her daughter in starting a day care business. She has been married to Art Muñoz for 37 years. They have five children, 18 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Art is retired from 37 years in the restaurant industry, having served as general manager to Clearman’s North Woods Inn.

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