Supervisors’ Denial Vote Stymies BLM’s Approval Of Soda Mountain Solar Project

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors denied both a ground water permit and the certification of the environmental review document for Regenerate Corporation’s Soda Mountain Solar Project, effectuating a significant setback to that proposed massive scale solar farm.
Resting their cases on the merits of economic and environmental hopes and fears, advocates and adversaries on both sides of the proposed 287-megawatt output, 1,767 acre Soda Mountain Solar project came out in mass at Tuesday’s board of supervisor’s regular meeting, 57 of whom weighed in on the direction the county should take on what some contend was the most controversial county issue of the past four-year election cycle.
The project had been proposed for placement in the desert, along the I-15 corridor between Barstow and Baker just south of the Zyzyx turnoff, adjacent to the East Mojave Preserve in the county’s First District where Robert Lovingood is in a tight and heated race for re-election against Angela Valles.
Nearly 4,000 protest signatures, a letter signed by 19 scientists, including those at UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz, Harvard University and Cornell University asking to “stop one of the most harmful utility scale projects in the nation” were received by the county. After roughly four hours of public testimony, the meeting crescendoed with each of the supervisors weighing in, climaxing with supervisors Josie Gonzalez and Robert Lovingood engaging in a cross examination of the project proponents. The surprising finale was the conclusions and motion made by Lovingood, contrary to county planning director Terri Rahhal’s recommendation to approve the project and the repeated attempts by county counsel urging rephrasing of the motion.
Fifty-seven speakers from the public signed in to submit their three minutes of comment in the hope of influencing the outcome of the yet unknown board vote on either or both the approvals needed to allow the project to proceed.
Speakers in support of the project, many garbed in orange t-shirts emboldened with a construction union logo, had the first shot. Workers with families to support, including several speaking in Spanish without an interpreter expressed their hope for immediate jobs near their desert homes where they could make good wages to support their wife and children. One even expressing his hope to be able to purchase Christmas gifts for family members.
Conversely, adversaries of the project repeatedly expressed that they want jobs too, but this is the wrong project and with solar energy done the right way, many more jobs could be created closer to home by directing solar development to existing disturbed urban areas in vacant lots, and above parking lots or on roof tops.
The desecration of the scenic view shed of the East Mojave preserve landscape as viewed from the I-15 upon entering the Soda Lake region was largely the concern of many of the speakers who expressed that its preservation is a critical element of the “ecotourism” industry. “Susan Sorelis, a Mojave Desert resident from the Baker-Shoshone area, said that “there are scientific, economic and legal flaws with the environmental impact report but I am here to tell a different story. I am a 4th generation Mojave Desert resident and my great grandfather founded Shoshone and Baker….when the mining industry collapsed in that area, we went from 700 jobs to 4 jobs. We were extremely fortunate to be near Death Valley and because of the National Park our communities made a comeback and survived through ‘ecotourism.’ That is a 45 million dollar business for business owners in the area. We want an economy that is sustainable, not just for today, but for our workers in the future.”
Proponents countered that there are already impacts to the view with the adjacent freeway and power line corridor and that the project can not be seen from most parts of the nearby Mojave National Preserve is the third largest national park in the lower 48 states. In reply, opponents observed that the existing infrastructure is not in front of or in the way of the view as one is passing by on the I-15 while the solar project would be an “in your face” industrial distraction in that well traveled corridor.
Michael Gordon, a professional landscape photographer objected to the “misrepresentation” by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the project proponents using photographs to wrongfully illicit the public perception of the project area as a stark uncomely location. He stated that the landscapes in the East Mojave were “unparalleled” and displayed his own photograph of the project area.
Gordon also objected to the 328 million gallons of water to be used at the project site, following up on the comments of Neil Nadler, of the Alliance for Desert Preservation, who asserted that the BLM’s unbridled peddling of unallocated lands is a “bombshell of development waiting to go off with 100,000 planned developments adjacent to our rural areas. Communities are already over-drafting over-stressed ground water basins [of] millions of gallons of water. The county water needs to be preserved for its citizens.”
Nadler along with several other speakers pointed to five already degraded areas that are designated and would be suitable for development with groundwater. Nadler asserted that “the BLM’s agenda is to develop whatever it can as quickly as it can, yet these unallocated BLM managed lands are precious. If the county does not take full control now, the high desert portion of the county will be unrecognizable. Soda Mountain is a foot in the door.”
The major environmental issues to be mitigated and addressed in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) document is the water usage and the adverse impact upon scenic resources, the movement of bighorn sheep and the destruction of tortoise habitat. The size of the project was reduced, and an array of solar panels originally planned for the area north of Interstate 15 was eliminated from the proposal as the BLM’s attempt to mitigate concerns about the project’s potential impacts to bighorn sheep movement and scenic values. “The smaller project footprint reduces potential interference with future efforts to re-establish bighorn sheep movement across the interstate highway,” the BLM’s statement said. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has not concurred with the BLM’s representation that the impact to the struggling bighorn and tortoise populations can be eliminated or is sufficient even with the additional measures incorporated into the project by the county planning staff. According to Rahhal these actions would include offsite land acquisition to provide desert tortoise habitat, installation of water sources for bighorn sheep cut off from natural water sources by the freeway, funding toward restoration of access for bighorn sheep to both sides of the interstate.
Regenerate Power spokeswoman, Sarojini Lall made the assertion that the “project mitigation efforts will help rather than hinder ‘bighorn sheep connectivity.” She referred to “new water sources” and $250,000 for “connectivity” and “genetic management projects.”
“There are no feasible mitigation measures to counter the cumulative impacts of the project” Todd Seuss, superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, said, explaining that the project is in the middle of a migration route between Death Valley and the Mojave Preserve and that the massive solar panel array will have “an adverse effect on a couple of decades’ work on Bighorn sheep.” The preserve is less than a half mile of the area of potential impact and Seuss asserts that the location is not right for solar, though he supports solar energy. He said he simply wants to take the right approach with the many alternative locations available.
In response to questioning by Supervisor Janice Rutherford, Rahhal admitted that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had concern for the project and that even with the added measures, migration for the bighorn was not adequate. “Fish and Wildlife think we are not there with the mitigation. We are not there with endorsing the project or approval of the project.”
Rahhal reported to the Board that in order to approve a CEQA document where there is significant impact there must be overriding considerations. She recommended that the Board approve a “finding of fact” that it was 1) prepared in accordance with CEQA , 2) mitigation has been proposed, 3) the conclusions are correct, and 4) the findings point out benefits of the project that would warrant its approval despite the adverse consequences of the project.
A finding of overriding consideration would have stated that though environmental impacts were shown to exist that cannot be fully mitigated or alleviated by any measure, approval of the project would have been warranted because the benefits of the project override the damage that the project would result in. The board, ultimately, did not accede making the finding or overriding consideration. Nor did it accept the liability of such a decision.
Rahhal emphasized that the project is a clean and renewable energy project that would enhance the desert economy, creating 215 on-site construction jobs over a period of 18 to 22 months. She referred to an economic study prepared for the project that asserts $143 million would be spent on construction labor and services, 53 full time jobs would be created over the 27-year life of the facility, with $50 million paid in wages and a total of $263 million in total economic output. Local sales and use tax revenue, she said, would be $11 million. Proponents also represented to the the board that the tax revenues and injection of money into local economies from employees needing food, housing, and other commodities would improve and stimulate the economy.
In making such a recommendation, Rahhal was asking the board to accept the BLM’s judgment in approving the project and to transfer liability for any damage that could potentially be caused by the project to the county and its stakeholders and taxpayers, including remnants potentially left behind in the event of a corporate bankruptcy, some project opponents stated.
Rahhal argued that denying issuance of the water permits for the five wells including four ground water monitoring wells and the use of water would not stop the project but would simply mean that water would be hauled from off-site locations without additional county approvals.
Conversely, David Lamfrom, director of the California Desert and National Wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Association, explained that denial of well permits and the CEQA certification is a major setback for the project and forces the BLM to make major revisions to its own environmental statement that currently relies upon the acquisitions of the well permits and an approved desert ground water pumping plan in making its determination of the environmental effect, he told the Sentinel.
“The board voted against approving the wells for the project,” Lamfrom said. “This will require the company to obtain water elsewhere. Trucking water in for the project will increase the carbon footprint of the overall project which will offset the ‘clean and green’ benefit of the solar energy production.”
Hauled water would require 60 additional truck trips during construction and would “increase significant air quality impacts for the project” the county staff report says.
Information available to the Sentinel suggest that the air quality impact would also likely need to be adjusted in the BLM’s environmental statement, which amended document would likely need to be recirculated forcing delays well beyond January 2017 and the onset of a new presidential administration.
A surprising twist on the economic impact issue came toward the end of the meeting when Lovingood opened up the board discussion by stating that the reduced footprint of the project reduces the number of jobs that the project would create and that an expanded or better technology, as solar panels become more affordable and efficient in the future could also reduce the number of jobs in the future. He asked Rahhal what the phrase “long- term” meant, to which she answered that the “life of the project is 27 years.” He asked Rahhal what the long-term environmental impacts would be, to which she answered “significant environmental impacts.” Lovingood then pointed out that a similar and recently considered project went bankrupt but did not declare that bankruptcy until after it had already scraped off 10,000 acres of land and then abandoned it. He asked Rahhal if this event had been taken into consideration in making the findings of overriding consideration. Rahhal answered that the current project is on BLM land in the area and the decision to allow the project had been made by the BLM based upon the BLM’s experienced professionals recommendations. Lovingood countered that “once disturbed, once scraped, it’s not going to be put back together. Do we have that protection that they have that experience in place from their learning in Riverside [County] what happened there. Rahhal attempted to assure the supervisor that the project minimizes impacts and there would be ongoing efforts to stabilize the site.
Reyad Fezzani, chairman and CEO of Regenerate Power Corporation, the applicant, said that a bond would be kept throughout the life of the project and the land would be returned back to its original form. He claimed that the project would not proceed without having full financing and that there is a lot of interest from buyers across the state and that the project would actually be able to deliver power to any of the buyers. He referenced a rigorous BLM process with the environmental review and studies that took five years to accomplish and get the project where it is. He said that the BLM would attest that it is probably one of the most studied projects in all of the operations throughout Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino County. He said that the project would be backed by union pension funds including the IBEW, ironworkers, and retirees who want to direct capital toward good projects.
Lovingood then asked how many homes would be provided power and how much power will the project provide. At first stating 175,000 and then consulting with his attorney, Fezzani adjusted his answer to indicate 75,000 homes would be provided power. Lovingood then responded that the power would be going east to the Midwest and not necessarily be used in San Bernardino County.
“We do not have a straight line connection of where the power is produced and where it is going” responded his attorney. Lovingood said,  “You don’t have the right information about the job projection either.”
“When the project started,” the proponent said, “we had so many jobs. That project was reduced. The footprint was reduced. So now the number of employees is reduced. We do not expect to alter the project further.”
Lovingood said, “This is your business, but as technology improves, the need for your power may decline. If there is another reduction, you will have to reduce your need for labor.
Fezzani sought to assure Lovingood that “We have capacity to sell more. We will still have the same amount of land to produce more if the technology approves. We do not expect to reduce. As panels get cheaper and more efficient, we could produce more.”
Lovingood queried with regard to the current lack of a power purchase agreement, at which point Third District Supervisor Janice Rutherford voiced her strong concern that there was no power purchase or transmission agreements in place. While transmission lines owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are nearby within the I-15 corridor, earlier in the meeting Pat Flannigan of Joshua Tree had earlier commented that the company had rejected the project as too expensive.
To Rutherford’s inquiry, Fezzani in consultation with his attorney responded that power sales are confidential and are difficult to obtain until a permit is obtained. “The fact is that things have changed since 2010 and the agreements you could get before, you can’t get [now]. They are not so easy for the larger projects to get because buyers want to know that there is a viable project.”
That the power sales agreements were being kept a secret did not bode well for the proponents. Supervisor Josie Gonzales began to grill the proponents. “There is no guarantee that the applicant will see a benefit from the power produced,” Gonzales concluded. “We are being asked by the state to help it meet its goals for renewable energy production and we must also consider the economic benefit to the county. However, the overriding benefit is neither local or long term.”
“Now, I am going to ask some questions,” she said, “and if they, too, are confidential, I will have some comments…You signed an agreement assuring maximum sales in the county of San Bernardino. Now you are saying that to disclose the details of the agreement is not something you would do because it is confidential.   You say you could tell us in confidentiality if you decide to after conferring with the company. Will the energy produced by this project provide a direct benefit to the residents and communities in surrounding communities?” she asked.
Fezzani responded, “The project would produce power and we would direct the direction of the power, however the project is so big that the county could not take all the power from it.”
“What are the long term benefits to this county?” Gonzales pressed.
“The permit will last 20 years,” said Fezzani “During that time, operations, support maintenance will require trained expert staff, depending upon how you decide to progress. We will drill wells for water, for cleaning. We will use a relatively small amount during operation compared to the dust mitigation during the project.  There is the benefit of the sales tax related to the equipment that we install on the site.” He further referenced “the investment and maintenance of the plant at the site for 25 years.”
Gonzales responded, “Sir you lost me when you said that you would produce more power than this county could use. How many homes are you talking about?   We have 2.2 million people in our county. You are going to produce so much power that we are not big enough for you?”
Fezzani sought to explain, saying, “The power lines are the reason why we cannot take from one location and deliver to another. How much power could be sold, I don’t have a number for that. We have to look at how the power is delivered today, but we have to know how the utilities are going to deliver it.”
Gonzales said, “These questions should be answered up front. What benefits would be denied the very residents from whom these benefits are going to be derived. You are supposed to be prepared to sell to the residents. You are proposing to put this on their backs, in their back yards. What do you offer?”
Fezzani continued the back and forth, saying, “It depends on utilities that would chose or not chose to buy power from us. We did commit to the school in Baker so that they could use the power. While the applicant is building the project, they cannot control the market.”
Gonzales said, “There is something that is called forward planning How do we best serve the people who year after year have called this their home? Be prepared in moving forward…
“We are being asked to make a decision of overriding consideration to help the state meet its goals for renewable energy production,” Gonzales continued. “But we need to also look at the  economic benefit to the county. Upon reading this and processing this I examine these two components carefully.  We are being asked to approve that knowing that there are impacts that cannot be mitigated [and] that the benefits outweigh the bad.” But she said, “The overriding statement is neither local or long term. The energy base benefits are not provided directly to the community.  This makes it very difficult for me.   I have supported solar. This makes it hard for me to support this one. We have to go forward with energy projects that don’t encumber. [This supplies] energy that goes elsewhere, generated on our back. Large scale energy sold to other companies. We need the affordable lower rate energy. It’s not the applicant’s fault, but a problem of the state’s policy.   There is no guarantee that the applicant will see benefit from the power produced.“The jobs are valuable. I support creating these jobs, maintaining jobs, continuing with life not having jobs come to an end. But we need to work harder and longer in bringing permanent jobs. I get that these are temporary jobs. We are moving in new frontiers. We have to figure out a better way. We see our residents at some point receive out of state renewable energy that would then allow our residents pay the lower and more affordable rates, for starters….I would like to see developers in the future offer to bring benefits to our residents. I am thinking that there is and has been a disproportionate thrust on the back of this county. We are ‘easy pick’ns.’ Our residents through their choice of geographic location to live here have become the victims because they are so well situated in the desert where they have a lot of good space.  We came up with and identified land that we thought was a good idea for solar. We would like to see developers in the future offer bringing benefits to our residents. I am unable to support this project.”
After declaring that “this is the wrong project in the wrong place” Lovingood moved to “deny” the water permits and the certification of the environmental impact report, which was seconded by Supervisor Gonzales and affirmed by the third vote of Supervisor Janice Rutherford, with both supervisors James Ramos and Hagman dissenting.

Stampede Toward Ward Systems Meets Potential Roadblock In Chino Hills

By Mark Gutglueck
Over the last two years, six San Bernardino County cities that traditionally featured at-large city council elections have been forced to embrace ward-based election systems or take substantial steps in that direction. The new election regimes were imposed on those cities as a consequence of the California Voter Rights Act, the terms of which allow a plaintiff or plaintiffs to file legal action alleging polarized voting and collect legal fees upon proving such polarized voting exists. The California Voter Rights Act confers upon plaintiffs a significant advantage, such that even if the challenge does not succeed, a plaintiff is not required to pay the prevailing city’s legal fees.
Because a handful of California cities that resisted challenges made of their election systems under the California Voting Rights Act were unsuccessful in their legal defenses and were forced by the courts to pay substantial amounts to cover those legal fees, most of the cities in San Bernardino County hit with such a demand have made a show of compliance.
With one of the most recent such demands consisting of a threat of legal action against the City of Chino Hills, however, a voting rights activism group may have set in motion a set of events that will result in a legal precedent that will stem the stampede of cities moving toward incorporating ward systems into their elective processes. This action comes as the state legislature is revisiting the underlying and procedural concepts, tenets and facets of the California Voting Rights Act.
Highland was the first San Bernardino County city served with a demand that it alter the way it elects its council members. The lawsuit was filed July 18, 2014 in San Bernardino Superior Court by a Lancaster-based lawyer, R. Rex Parris, in conjunction with the Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes and the Los Angeles-based Law Office of Milton C. Grimes on behalf of Lisa Garrett, a Latino resident of Highland. In response, the city put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot, Measure T, asking if the city’s residents were in favor of a ward system. Measure T went down to defeat, with 2,862 votes or 43.01 percent in favor and 3,793, or 56.99 percent opposed. The lawsuit proceeded and the city sought to assuage the demand by proposing to allow cumulative voting, in which each voter is given one vote for each contested position and is allowed to cast any or all of those votes for any one candidate, or spread the votes among the candidates. When the matter went to trial, despite making a finding that the socio-economic based rationale presented by the plaintiff’s attorneys to support the need for ward elections was irrelevant and that the plaintiff’s assertion that district voting was the only way to cure the alleged violation of the Voting Rights Act was false, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn mandated that Highland adopt a ward system.
In December 2015 Kevin Shenkman, using the letterhead of his firm, Shenkman & Hughes, sent boilerplate letters to the cities of Chino, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, among nearly a dozen others, asserting the cities “relie[d] upon at-large election system[s] for electing candidates to [their] city council[s]” and charged that “voting within [those cities] is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution, and therefore [those cities’] at large elections are violative of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. It is our belief [those cities’] at-large system[s] dilute the ability of minority residents – particularly Latinos (a “protected class”) – to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of [those cities’] council elections.” In those letters, Shenkman threatened to sue the cities “on behalf of residents” if those cities’ at-large council systems were not replaced by ones based on district representation.
To emphasize his point and raise the level of intimidation, Shenkman wrote, “As you may be aware, in 2012, we sued the City of Palmdale for violating the California Voting Rights Act. After an eight-day trial, we prevailed. After spending millions of dollar, a district-based remedy is ultimately being imposed upon the Palmdale city council (sic), with districts that combine all incumbents into one of four districts.”
Chino responded by having its council, pass a resolution on a vote of 4-0, invoking by fiat a by-district election system that will be in place by November.
In a highly controversial move that was widely perceived as acceding to extortion, the Upland City Council agreed to draw up the plans for a ward system that the voters could consider and pay Shenkman $45,000 in return for Shenkman holding off on filing the suit against the city, at least until the city’s residents vote upon the district election-forming measure.
In Rancho Cucamonga, a city with a population of 165,269, voters have on five occasions elected Latinos to the city council. Officials there likewise capitulated to Shenkman’s threats and the city council followed city attorney James Markman’s advice to have an electoral ward map featuring four districts of roughly 41,317 residents each drawn up and which the city’s voters will have an opportunity to endorse in the November election.
The city of Yucaipa, while not yet the subject of a demand that it adopt a ward system, this spring hired a consultant, Claremont-based National Demographics Corporation, to review establishing voting districts for electing city council members and to draft district election map options. The city council in June adopted one of those maps featuring five wards. The council said it did so to head off any potential future litigation based upon the California Voter Rights Act.
The Redlands City Council, which on its own initiative in May began looking into converting to a council ward system, was likewise threatened by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund earlier this month with legal action if it did not move immediately to put such a system in place. Last week, on August 16, the city council held a specially-called meeting at which it somewhat obsequiously approved a resolution establishing the criteria for five voting districts. It is now in the process of setting up a public input process on drawing up the boundaries of those wards.
On August 9, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, known by its acronym MALDEF, sent a letter to the Chino Hills City Council informing that body’s members that unspecified Hispanic residents of Chino Hills have complained of polarized voting in the community.
MALDEF attorney Matthew Barragen demanded that Chino Hills dispense with its at-large election system that has been in place since the city’s inception in 1991. Barragan maintains the at-large election system in Chino Hills interferes with Latino voters electing candidates that they favor. Barragan called upon the city council to adopt a resolution converting Chino Hills’ election process into one involving wards, threatening forthcoming legal action if the city council did not do just that by August 24.
For a multitude of reasons, it appears that Barragan and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are spoiling for a fight in Chino Hills they might not want to actually engage in.
According to a comprehensive legal, political, procedural and governmental analysis, a lawsuit against Chino Hills based on the California Voters Rights Act would have little prospect of succeeding on the merits; moreover, such a suit would be likely to raise issues that would potentially transmogrify the standards under which the previous legal victories enjoyed by plaintiffs in California Voting Rights Act were achieved, leading to what could prove a precedent-setting decision that would undercut the Act altogether.
Lawsuits based on the California Voting Rights Act have been among the most consistently successful class of litigation in California judicial history, a boon to voting rights advocates and a huge cash cow to the lawyers filing them. Dozens of cities throughout the state have been sued for violating the California Voting Rights Act. Only a fraction of those sued have fought back. To this date not one city that has actively contested such lawsuits has won. This uncommon string of victories by the plaintiffs, in most cases based upon circumstances where some order of representational imbalance could be illustrated, has bred in potential defendants a timidity that at this point is nearly universal. Given the overwhelmingly successful track record of the plaintiffs in such cases, even those cities with a viable or potentially viable defense are increasingly unwilling to roll the dice in making a defense. And the one-sided nature of the Act, which grants plaintiffs virtual immunity in bringing a suit such that even if they lose they are not responsible, as is with civil litigation otherwise, as the loser to pay the legal costs of the prevailing defendant, has tilted the playing field ever more against cities.
In the cases of Rancho Cucamonga, Chino, and Redlands, for example, all of those cities historically elected Hispanic candidates to their respective city councils. Such a consideration would strongly controvert the assertion that those communities were ones in which racially or ethnically polarized voting occurred. In the case of Chino, that city’s most celebrated and successful homegrown politician – Ruben S. Ayala – was Latino. A member of the school board beginning in 1955, then the city council in 1962 and then mayor from 1964 to 1966, he was never rejected by Chino’s voters. His exodus from the city council came only when he moved up the political pecking order, first to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and thenceforward to the California Senate. In the 43 years between 1955 and 1998, Ayala continuously held office. His only electoral defeat came when he lost in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 1972 primary. More recently, in Redlands, Pete Aguilar, also Latino, served on the city council, having been chosen by the council to fill in a vacant seat on that panel in 2006, and subsequently being elected in his own right. He was subsequently reelected to the council and chosen to serve as mayor in 2010 and again in 2012. He used that position as a political springboard into higher office, running successfully for Congress as a Democrat in 2014. Thus, he was not voted out of office by Redlands voters but left voluntarily. Historically, Rancho Cucamonga has had Hispanic elected office holders, including councilman Mike Palombo, an early member of the city council, and Rex Guttierez, who was thrice elected to the city council.
Whether those three cities might have prevailed in any lawsuit filed against them under the California Voters Right Act is a moot point, as all three voluntarily complied with accepting, or allowing their residents to choose, a ward system.
Afoot now is an effort to force Chino Hills to move to a ward voting system. Of moment, however, is that Chino Hills, perhaps as much or more than any city that has ever been so challenged, has a strong case that it is not out of compliance with the standards outlined in the California Voting Rights Act.
Foremost, Chino Hills currently has, and previously had, Latino elected officials, ones serving on the city council as well as the fire and school boards, a circumstance which directly and convincingly controverts the claim that racially or ethnically polarized voting has occurred there.
Moreover, a strong case can be made that given the distribution of residents in Chino Hills generally and the distribution of Latinos in Chino Hills in particular, instituting a ward voting system in Chino Hills carries with it the possibility that such a change would not achieve the desired effect of politically empowering the Hispanic population in Chino Hills but rather potentially have the opposite effect of rendering it less likely that a Hispanic candidate would be elected to or remain on the council in Chino Hills.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics in Chino Hills in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, comprise 28.9 percent of the population. By contrast, Latinos in Chino Hills are outnumbered by the Asian descent population, which stands at 31.8 percent, and the white population, at 50.7 percent. Hispanics in Chino Hills significantly outnumber the black population, which registers at 4.2 percent.
Importantly, the population of Chino Hills is relatively evenly distributed geographically. While the easternmost-lying portion of Chino Hills does have a slightly larger concentration of Hispanics than elsewhere in the city, that number is still not high enough to allow for a district to be drawn there that would have anywhere approaching a Latino majority or even a Latino plurality. In this way, creating a ward system would carry with it the possibility that the council’s current Hispanic member, Ray Marquez, would be shunted into a district in which he would have to stand for reelection against other incumbent council members, reducing his chances of remaining on the council. Simultaneously, the creation of other districts in which Latinos held no registration advantage would not be likely to enhance the prospect of seeing greater Hispanic representation on the council than currently exists.
Should Chino Hills choose to resist the call for creating city council wards and put on a defense in court to any lawsuit the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund brings citing the California Voting Rights Act, the relative strength of the city’s legal position might result in a verdict or finding that would break the string of victories plaintiffs have achieved using the California Voting Rights Act in the courts so far. Such an outcome would potentially weaken those utilizing the California Voting Rights Act, creating a situation in which efforts to ensure voting rights for protected groups could be compromised or rendered problematic in the future.
Already, there is an indication that Chino Hills city officials perceive that MALDEF was running a bluff and that it might not be able to back up the tough language contained in its demand. In his letter, Barragan issued a demand that the Chino Hills City Council show that it was purposed to comply with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s call for the city switching to a ward system by adopting a resolution to that effect by August 24. That meant the city council would need to agendize the resolution for its August 23 meeting. The council, however, cancelled the August 23 meeting. August 24 has come and gone and MALDEF has initiated no legal action against Chino Hills.
Chino Hills City Manager Konradt Bartlam told the Sentinel that the city council will discuss the matter in closed session at the September 13 meeting.
Bartlam gave no concrete indication as to whether he would, as have other city managers with cities faced with a demand that they adopt a district-based voting system, recommend one way or the other that the city stand pat with its current at large electoral approach or knuckle under to the demand.
In addition to the city not having abjectly complied with Barragan’s August 24 deadline, there were some subtle indicators Chino Hills officials are not going to be stampeded toward adopting a ward system and that they understand that the plaintiffs will not be able to bring an open-and-shut case against the city alleging polarized voting.
“We will be considerate of MALDEF, but deliberate as well,” Bartlam said. The city manager indicated an extensive analysis of the city’s demographics had already been carried out and that it was abundantly clear that “The Hispanic numbers are not as great as the Asian population.” Noting that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is representing Hispanic rather than Asian voters, Bartlam expressed the view that MALDEF and Barragan might be progressing on a tangent at odds with their own goals.
Bartlam did not discount the city’s option of having the council simply vote to impose a ward system on its voters, as doing so would be less costly than holding an election in which the choice between at-large and by-district approaches would be up to the city’s residents.
“This push toward ward elections is a growing trend,” he said. “Fortunately, our city council has the ability to make that decision. Cities such as Rancho Cucamonga did not have a choice but had to go to an election.” Bartlam’s reference is to state law, which allows cities of populations below 100,000 to have their city councils exercise discretion over whether they can have electoral districts or not. In cities above the 100,000-poulation threshold, changing to or from ward systems must be approved by the city’s electorate.
At the same time, Bartlam hinted that because of the timing of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s challenge, together with the prospect that the legislature is on the brink of tweaking the California Voters Rights Act or augmenting it with further provisions, the ability of plaintiffs suing under the act to outmuscle municipal defendants on the basis of litigative costs may be drawing to a close.
Those changes might extend to either preventing plaintiffs from being eligible to recover all legal costs in the filing of a voting rights lawsuit unless they prevail on all causes of action or, conversely, making plaintiffs liable for the court costs of defendants if the suits fail.
“It is my understanding there is likely to be some legislation before the next general election because of the impact this has had not only regionally but across the state,” Bartlam said.
The Sentinel spoke with Barragan yesterday, August 25.
To the suggestion that there was a rather weak or non-existent case that polarized voting had taken place in Chino Hills, as demonstrated by Marquez and Rosanna Mitchell-Arrieta having served on the city council and the current case on Chino Valley Unified School District Board where, Latinos/Latinas in the personages of Irene Hernandez-Blair, Sylvia Orozco and Andrew Cruz, represent the board majority, Barragan downplayed the importance of those considerations.
“We are aware of the electoral history in Chino Hills,” Barragan said. “It is true that there is currently a Latino on the council, but when you look at all elections the city has held, there have been a number of Latino candidacies that have failed. We looked at the Chino Hills elections with our experts and we believe racially polarized voting occurred in those elections.”
Barragan said that an analysis of voting that occurs outside of Chino Hills shows that Hispanic voters tend to support Hispanic candidates and the consideration that several Hispanic candidates did not achieve success shows that Chino Hills’ Latino voters have been disenfranchised. “That is what this Act is made to fix,” he said. “That one Latino candidate made it through and got enough support to get elected, does not preclude a case from being made that there is polarized voting in Chino Hills.”
When asked about whether the concurrent failure of white or other non-Latino candidates to achieve election in those same elections might undercut that argument and what bearing the Asian population’s electoral failures might bear on the circumstance, Barragan said, “We have a burden in our case to show Latino voters [were disenfranchised]. That does not prevent an Asian voters’ rights advocacy group from taking up the cause of Chino Hills’ voters of Asian extraction. The remedy would be the same in an Asian case,” he said.
Queried as to what criteria would be needed to establish that racially polarized voting exists, Barragan said, “California looks at two things: Is there racially polarized voting? And currently are there at-large elections? It the answer to both questions is yes, the remedy is district based elections.”
Confronted with the consideration that even in that area of Chino Hills most heavily saturated with Hispanic residents, the east side, Latinos yet comprise well below fifty percent of the population in those neighborhoods, Barragan yet insisted that a Hispanic majority district might be drawn up without gerrymandering.
“Looking at the most recent data, we believe it to have been possible to draw a district that is majority Latino,” Barragan said. Despite white residents being the majority in those areas, Barragan said that “Following principles that will comply with state and federal election law, complying with the need for contiguity and compactness, all of those things, it is our position a majority Latino district can be drawn.”
Barragan at one point acknowledged that the framing of the voting wards might nevertheless result in none of the city’s electoral wards having a Hispanic majority or even a plurality. Nevertheless, he defended the push to have the city adopt a ward system.
“The California Voters Rights Act does not mandate that Latinos or any other ethnic minority sit on the council,” he said. Barragan claimed that even if the adoption of ward systems did not result in Hispanics being elected to the council, “it would still work because the Latino community wanted that candidate,” i.e., the one elected. Barragan said the problem with the current at-large voting systems in most cities is that Hispanics and other minorities are not being represented. “Their voice is not able to have an impact,” he said. “You have substantial portions of the community that have no say about their local government. That is the issue: that they have a voice on the council. Even if those elected or running for the council are not Hispanic, Barragan said, “They will need to appeal to Latino voters and their issues, both during and after election time, or risk not getting elected. A big part of this is that incumbents tend to live next door to one another. When we look at city councils or school boards, we see residents in one particular part of the community sitting and representing everyone. If you have representatives from every part of the city, they will raise issues unique to their portion of the city and speak for everybody. In the cities where we have seen a change to district-based elections we have seen more candidates participating than ever before.”
Creating wards will sometimes require that those incumbents run against one another, Barragan acknowledged, “which might not be favorable to the incumbents” he said, but which would nevertheless “be beneficial to the community.”
While intent on selling the benefits of district-based voting in municipalities, Barragan was resistant to acknowledging that such systems have drawbacks. Municipal electoral wards are notorious for creating circumstances in which corruption often flourishes. Dividing a city into council wards can create political fiefdoms, in which a councilman or councilwoman is able to exercise nearly absolute power, while inviting the council members outside a given district to cast a blind eye to those excesses and support their council colleague in that parochial domination in exchange for being given absolute license and support within his or her own district. Such abuses of power in the ward system in Chicago are legendary. At present in San Bernardino County, only two of the 24 incorporated municipalities – San Bernardino and Colton – have ward systems. In the last 20 years, more council members from those two cities – 11 in all – have been indicted and/or convicted of bribery or political corruption than in the other 22 cities in the county combined.
Bartlam, who previously was the city manger in Lodi, and held other administrative positions with the cities of Brea, Glendora, Simi Valley and Pomona, told the Sentinel “I have experience with both at-large and ward elective systems. There are a number of reasons why ward systems are not desirable from a management standpoint.”
Nevertheless, Barragan maintained that the failures and shortcomings of ward systems are not sufficient reason to resist the imposition of one in Chino Hills.
“There are good people in public service and not so good ones,” he said. “I don’t think we can tie the quality of leadership to the type of election systems. If we were to do some statistical analysis of how a government is run at the local level with both systems I don’t think you would see any basis for the conclusion that a district system leads to that [political corruption] as a matter of certainty.
It is possible to represent the people [of a given limited district] and the city as a whole. You see time and time again district-based elections leading to conversation that would not happen if the council members did not come from all around the city.”
Barragan continued, “In addition, we believe a district-based system is a better system for government. When we look at city councils or school boards, we see residents in one particular part of the community sitting and representing everyone. If you have representatives from every part of the city, they will raise issues unique to their portion of the city and speak for everybody. In the cities where we have seen a change to district-based elections we have seen more candidates participating than ever before. There are more people willing to run because they have been shut out before. These people talk to their neighbors. They see the potholes that persist, the crime. That is why we support this.”
More inclusive representation, Barrgan said, is “in the interest of everyone.”
The presence of a Latino on the Chino Hills City Council and the complications the city’s mix of ethnicities presents in carrying out a cogent analysis of voting trends has convince many people that Chino Hills presents potential plaintiff’s with at best a marginal case that Hispanics are being politically disenfranchised there. Barragan insisted otherwise. An analysis of whether the case will hold up in court, Barragan said, is “something we do before we send the letters. We evaluate the situation.” If the city chooses, he said, to “change within a reasonable time period, what we get is better government and the preservation of voting rights. If the city decides it is not best for them to convert voluntarily, then we would force them to do it through litigation.”
At that point, Barragan flexed his litigative muscle, referencing the financial advantage the California Voting Rights Act gives plaintiffs over cities in the lodging of voting rights cases.
“The attorney fees in other cases, as you have seen, are quite high,” he said. “We hope the council will do what is best for the community. We hope they will do that [adopt a ward system] and save them the expense of having to litigate. There are experts we hire on our side to evaluate” the existence of polarized voting, he said. “We have determined to our satisfaction and standard of proof that polarized voting exists in Chino Hills.”
As to the possibility that pushing for wards in Chino Hills might actually backfire by pushing the city’s one current Hispanic councilman, Marquez, into a ward in which he will need to compete against other incumbents, potentially resulting in his exodus from the council with no guarantee that the other wards will elect a Latino, Barragan said, “The idea that going to district elections would be worse or in some way cause harm to Latino voters is unfounded.”
As to suggestions that there is more at play than the public interest to the wave of legal demands to cities throughout California that they adopt ward systems, Barragan said he, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other lawyers and law firms pursuing cases under the California Voting Rights Act are “not in this to make money.”

Salabaj Cites City Malaise In Making RC Council Run

Chris Salabaj, who grew up in Rancho Cucamonga but initiated his political career in the megalopolis of Los Angeles, has returned to his hometown, where he is now seeking a berth on the city council.
Salabaj, 44, is one of seven candidates vying for two open positions in this year’s race, running against incumbents Lynne Kennedy and Sam Spagnolo and challengers Clarence Olson, Amira Abdelmageed, Erick Jimenez and Curtis Pitts.
Salabaj says it is his perception that there are two major issues facing the city at present.
“One is the safety of our city and the other is the state of our recreational amenities,” he said. A number of residents have expressed to him the view that both public safety and the city’s public facilities are “not being supported as well as they should. People are saying our elected officials should be making decisions based on what is best for the people who live in the city and not special interests.”
Salabaj, who is professionally involved in sports coaching and education as well as being involved locally in sports programs, said those he associates with express the view that “the city is neglecting our sports and recreation facilities and we need them to focus on reviving those as part of the decision-making process.”
What the city is plagued by at this present time, Salabaj said, is “a lack of leadership.”
Of the current city council, Salabaj said, “I don’t have a beef with any of them personally.” Nevertheless, he said, four of them have “strong connections to the fire department.” While he said he considered the fire department to be a key component in the city’s public safety formula, “any time you have a majority that has sided with a certain group, it is a red flag.”
The consideration that three of council members are retired firefighters pulling hefty public pensions as a consequence of their firefighting careers, that a fourth council member has turned early to the firefighters’ union for campaign fund support, that three of the city’s highest paid employees in the last year were fire department employees and that the city is now paying its retired firefighters more in pensions than it is spending in funding operations of the entire fire department including current salaries, equipment, fuel, facilities and supplies, Salabaj said, has thrown the city’s priorities out of balance and “is of concern to me.”
As a consequence of the City of Rancho Cucamonga’s commitment to the “status quo,” including maintaining generous salaries and pensions for city employees, Salabaj said, “We are now seeing no visible improvement in the city. We are standing still. Nothing has changed. We have seen a growth in youth organizations that would require the city to expand its facilities. We need to improve what we have and build more. But the city has gone the other way. I am involved in AYSO [American Youth Soccer Organization]. The city came to us and told us they want us to maintain the fields. That tells me there has been an obvious misuse of city funds. People pay taxes because they expect those amenities to be taken care of. There hasn’t been any creativity in the current city council’s thought process. Everyone is stuck in the sand and not going anywhere. When I talk to the parents, they want new facilities.”
Salabaj said he is the right candidate at this point because he is prepared to assume the authority and make up for the shortcomings of the current political status quo.
“First of all, education and experience is never weighted in as far as selecting who our leaders for government are going to be,” he said. “I have gone as far as graduate school. I am a credentialed educator. When I took business classes in college, that made me reasonably aware of how to manage things. As an administrator, I have applied and sharpened those skills. Working with budgets and human resources is something that comes naturally to me. I have a good sense of what it takes fiscally to utilize what is available and get the best uses out of every penny we have in the city. I know what is in the city’s and the citizens’ interest and I think I can reflect what a majority of the city needs.”
Salabaj said he will represent Rancho Cucamonga’s residents first. Though he said he respects the city’s employees, he said the council needs to remember that those at City Hall are the servants of the citizens and that it is not the other way around.
“I am certainly on top of the issues, such as supporting law enforcement with what they need to keep us safe,” Salabaj said. “I am aware of a situation recently when calling for help from the sheriff’s department and the delay in that response. What I was told by the officer was ‘We are understaffed as a sheriff’s department.’ I have to ask, ‘Why is that?’ That should be our primary focus. We have five people on the city council and I would welcome the opportunity to be a voice in what is being done in the citizens’ collective name.”
Another thing that recommends him to the position of city council is his lifelong familiarity with Rancho Cucamonga, Salabaj said.
“Growing up and being part of the community for so long has given me a deep love of this city,” he said. “That is another thing that would qualify me more than other people,” he said.
Salabaj, who was born in Fontana, was raised in Rancho Cucamonga, where he attended Sacred Heart Parochial School in Etiwanda. He then attended Damian High School in La Verne. He attended Chaffey College and La Verne University, where he majored in business and physical education. He has a real estate brokers license and is an educator at Damian, in the capacity of computer resource specialist teaching all grade levels at his Alma Mater. He is also the varsity wrestling coach and freshman football coach at Damian.
Divorced, he is a single parent with three teen-age children.
My work schedule as a teacher and coach would let me be free enough so that I would have no problem dealing with the issues in the City of Rancho Cucamonga,” he said. “I see things that need to happen to make our city better. Those things are not going to happen if we keep the incumbents in. I don’t accept what they are giving us as the best they can. If they are giving the best, it is time for a change and for someone else to come in and do it. As a coach you have to have drive and a ‘never-say-die’ attitude. You have to organize and know what is likely to happen before it happens. If you are prepared for what is going to happen beforehand, you will have a safer community and a better place to live. There are so many benefits to be had to the community that plans ahead and looks down the road toward what is coming in the future,” he said.
In 2008, while living in Los Angeles, Salabaj ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, seeking to represent San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Watts and Los Angeles.
“That was a crash course in politics for me,” Salabaj said. “I had never run before.”
He again ran for political office in 2010, when he ran for the California Assembly in the 55th District.
A Republican who has been active in various anti-gang task forces, youth intervention efforts, park and recreation programs, food banks and community clean-up events, Salabaj said his political ambition is driven by his belief that a community can be improved through commitment, activism, action and sensible governmental management.

Court Ruling Seen As “Game Changer” In Public Pension Reform Effort

By Ed Mendel
The one thing some pension reformers say is needed to cut the cost of unaffordable public pensions: give current workers a less costly retirement benefit for work done in the future, while protecting pension amounts already earned.
It’s allowed in the remaining private-sector pensions. But California is one of about a dozen states that have what has become known as the “California rule,” which is based on a series of state court decisions, a key one in 1955.
The pension offered at hire becomes a “vested right,” protected by contract law, that cannot be cut, unless offset by a new benefit of comparable value. The pension can be increased, however, even retroactively for past work as happened for state workers under landmark legislation, SB 400 in 1999.
Last week, an appeals court issued a ruling in a Marin County case that is a “game changer” if upheld by the state Supreme Court, said a news release from former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who wants to put a pension reform initiative on the 2018 ballot.
Justice James Richman of the First District Court of Appeal wrote that “while a public employee does have a ‘vested right’ to a pension, that right is only to a ‘reasonable’ pension — not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating the pension.
“And the Legislature may, prior to the employee’s retirement, alter the formula, thereby reducing the anticipated pension. So long as the Legislature’s modifications do not deprive the employee of a ‘reasonable’ pension, there is no constitutional violation.”
The ruling came in a suit by Marin County employee unions contending their vested rights were violated by a pension reform enacted in 2012 that prevents pension boosts from unused vacation and leave, bonuses, terminal pay and other things.
These “anti-spiking” provisions apply to current workers. The major part of the reform legislation, including lower pension formulas and a cap, only apply to new employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013, who have not yet attained vested rights.
The California Public Employees Retirement System expects the reform pushed through the Legislature by Gov. Brown to save $29 billion to $38 billion over 30 years, not a major impact on a current CalPERS shortfall or “unfunded liability” of $139 billion.
Similarly, legislation two years ago will increase the rate paid to school districts to the California State Teachers Retirement System from 8.25 percent of pay to 19.1 percent, while the rate paid by teachers increases from 8 percent of pay to 10.25 percent.
The limited teacher rate increase followed the California rule. The new benefit offsetting the 2.5 percent rate hike vests a routine annual 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment, which previously could have been suspended, though that rarely if ever happened.
While mayor of San Jose four years ago, Reed got approval from 69 percent of voters for a broad reform to cut retirement costs that were taking 20 percent of the city general fund. A superior court approved a number of the measure’s provisions.
But a plan to cut the cost of pensions current workers earn in the future by giving them an option (contribute up to an additional 16 percent of pay to continue the current pension or switch to a lower pension) was rejected by the court, citing the California rule.
In a settlement of union lawsuits, Reed’s successor locked in some retirement savings but dropped an appeal of the option. Reed, a lawyer, thinks the California rule is ill-founded and likely to be overturned if revisited by the state supreme court.
He has pointed to the work of a legal scholar, Amy Monahan, who argued that by imposing a restrictive rule without finding clear evidence of legislative intent to create a contract, California courts broke with traditional contract analysis and infringed on legislative power.
“California courts have held that even though the state can terminate a worker, lower her salary, or reduce her other benefits, the state cannot decrease the worker’s rate of pension accrual as long as she is employed,” Monahan wrote.
In the ruling last week, Justice Richman describes the setting for the reform legislation: soaring pension debt after the financial crisis in 2008-09 and a Little Hoover Commission report in 2011 urging cuts in pensions current workers earn in the future.
He cites several court rulings in the past that conclude cuts in pensions earned by current workers are allowed to give the pension system the flexibility needed to adjust to changing conditions and preserve “reasonable” pensions in the future.
Some of the court rulings cited allowed changes in retirement ages, reductions of maximum possible pensions, repeals of cost-of-living adjustments, changes in required service years, pensions reduced from two-thirds to one-half of salary, and a reasonable increase in pension contributions.
“Thus,” Richman wrote, “short of actual abolition, a radical reduction of benefits, or a fiscally unjustifiable increase in employee contributions, the guiding principle is still the one identified by Miller in 1977: ‘the governing body may make reasonable modifications and changes before the pension becomes payable and that until that time the employee does not have a right to any fixed or definite benefits but only to a substantial or reasonable pension.’”
Richman’s ruling makes several references to a unanimous state Supreme Court decision in 1977 in Miller v. State of California. He said the foundation of the unions’ constitutional appeal is a “onetime variation” in one word in another ruling.
“To be sustained as reasonable, alterations of employees’ pension rights must bear some material relation to the theory of a pension system and its successful operation, and changes in a pension plan which result in disadvantage to employees should be accompanied by comparable new advantages,” the state Supreme Court said in Allen v. City of Long Beach (1955).
Richman said a 1983 state Supreme Court decision (Allen v. Board of Administration) changed “should” have a comparable new advantage to “must,” citing two other State Supreme Court decisions that said “should” and an appeals court decision that said “must.”
In a decision a month later, he said, the Supreme Court used “should” while referring to a comparable new benefit and has continued to use “should” in all rulings since then.
“It thus appears unlikely that the Supreme Court’s use of ‘must’ in the 1983 Allen decision was intended to herald a fundamental doctrinal shift,” Richman said, citing two rulings that “should” is advisory or a recommendation not compulsory.
The 39-page decision written by Richman and concurred in by Justices J. Anthony Kline and Maria Miller makes other points in its rejection of a rigid view of the California rule and pension vested rights.
“The big question for pension reformers is whether or not the California Supreme Court will agree,” Reed said in a news release from the Retirement Security Initiative. “If it does, the legal door will be open for Californians to begin to take reasonable actions to save pension systems and local governments from fiscal disaster.”
There was no immediate word from the Marin Association of Public Employees and other county employee unions last week about whether the appeals court decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Missed Filings Earn 29 Palms Community Theatre Lost Tax Exempt Status

The ignominious demise of Theatre 29 is much exaggerated, one of its board members told the Sentinel this week.
Theatre 29 is a community theatre presenting entertainment since its founding in 1999 and is dedicated, according to its mission statement, “to bring quality, family-oriented theater to Twentynine Palms while offering opportunities for our children and citizens to experience the live arts.”
Recently, however there have been recurrent reports that the live performance venue was beset with fraud, mismanagement and the misappropriation of public funds. Because there has been relatively little disclosure of the theatre’s budget, income and expenses over the years, those suggestions gained some traction.
And while the theatre did sustain a blow in May when the Internal Revenue Service revoked its 501 c3 tax exemption status, Gary Daigneault said that action was taken only as a result of an oversight on the part of the group’s treasurer and an extended mix-up on the board’s part. Daigneault has been variously referred to as the president or vice president of Theatre 29’s board of directors, with another board member, Brian Tabeling, sometimes being credited as board president.
“The IRS has instituted a policy that if taxes are not filed for three years, an automatic revocation occurs,” Daigneault said. “The revocation is done by computer in those kinds of circumstances, not a person. We received notice three months later. Long story short, we were at fault because
of a volunteer who told us the taxes were handled. The bottom line is the taxes were not filed.”
Daigneault on August 24 said Theatre 29 had filed for a rescission of the revocation. “We filed all the paperwork yesterday,” he said. “We are asking for an expedited reconsideration.”
Daigneault said, “We learned our lesson as an organization to double check. We were misled by one of our volunteers. We have now instituted a policy of having one of our officers handle corporate compliance. We have hired H and R Block to handle our taxes. This should be no negative reflection on our many dedicated and talented volunteers. I think we do a good job for our community and the 64 kids who are involved.”
Beginning today and running through September 24, the theatre’s troupe will be permorming “The Secret Garden.” On October 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29, 30 & 31, “Resurgence” will be showing. From November 18 until December 17, A Christmas Story will be on tap at the theatre, located at 73637 Sullivan Road in Twentynine Palms.

Forum… Or Against ’em

Count von Olsen

By Count Friedrich von Olsen
I have always had an abiding respect for the Washington Post. It goes without saying that almost two generations ago, two of what were its more obscure reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, did a bang up job of tenaciously reporting on what would become known as the Watergate Scandal. So thorough and dynamic was their reportage, that they felled the President of the United States, the most powerful man on the planet and Mssrs Bernstein and Woodward went from the fourth string to star status. All the way across the continent, I am a subscriber, with the paper delivered to the doorstep of my chalet here in Lake Arrowhead. I don’t consider my morning complete until I have soiled my fingertips with its newsprint…
I must say I am a bit dismayed of late in reading it. I opened the paper recently, only to be greeted with the following headlines: Donald Trump must think we’re all fools; The crisis of morality at Fox News; The singular danger of Trump; Trump’s repellent inner circle; and Joe Arpaio, America’s scofflaw sheriff…
Is it just me, or do I detect something of what others might refer to as a liberal bias in the way these headlines read? My impression is the Washington Post doesn’t have a very high opinion of the 2016 Republican nominee for president or the lawman from Arizona who, in some circles anyway, is referred to as America’s Sheriff…
Now, I’m for a free press as much, or even more, than the next guy. But I find it just a tad disturbing that a respected newspaper like the Washington Post, instead of giving me information upon which I might draw my own conclusions, has taken to instructing me on what I should think through the use of bombastic, and might I say fatuous, headlines…
Despite my feelings, I will not cancel my subscription…

Howard Holcomb

Howard Holcomb

Howard Holcomb

By Mark Gutglueck
Howard Lee Holcomb was a native son of San Bernardino, having been born there on February 5, 1898, a third generation of the pioneer Holcomb Family in the city. His parents were Frank I. And Leila (Covington) Holcomb. Howard attended local schools and graduated from San Bernardino High School in 1916.
Holcomb worked at the family dairy for almost four years, not including his after-school and weekend work from about 1911 to 1916.
Howard Holcomb and Miss Frances W. Crawford of Highland were married on August 31, 1918 in Downey. They had one daughter, Margaret Ellen, who was born in 1922.
In 1920, Howard Holcomb obtained employment with a local power company, which later was incorporated into the Southern California Edison Company. From about 1934 to 1950, Holcomb and Mr. O.C. McClintock operated an automotive service station at Highland Avenue and Sierra Way and from 1941 until 1957 they were the local distributors of petroleum products for the General Petroleum Corporation, with their office and yard at Mill and E streets. Holcomb, who resided with his wife Frances and his daughter Margaret at 1989 Sepulveda Avenue in San Bernardino, was elected to the San Bernardino City Council, representing the Fourth Ward. He served from May 8, 1933 until November 6, 1944.
As a member of the city council, Holcomb took a lead in pressing for the development of Perris Hill Park and the initiation of the city’s recreation programs. He was instrumental in making San Bernardino the first city in the area with two-way radio equipped police cars.
His accomplishments as a city councilman would be overshadowed by his presence on the council during a time when the city and its leaders were on the wrong side of history.
While serving on the council, Holcomb was named as a defendant in the case Lopez v. Secombe, et al, a lawsuit which challenged the City of San Bernardino’s practice of excluding people of Hispanic descent from using the city pool. Holcomb was mentioned in the plaintiff’s complaint, as were the other members of the city council in 1943, Leslie Case, Wm. H. Roberts, George Shafer, and Timothy Sheehan, along with police chief James Cole, city attorney H.R. Griffin and superintendent of parks Owen R. Bristow.
The plaintiffs included Ignacio Lopez, an American citizen of Mexican descent and extraction, a San Bernardino County taxpayer, a graduate of Chaffey Jr. College and Pomona College and the University of Southern California who had served as the head of the Spanish Department in the Office of Foreign Language, Division of Office of War Information and the Spanish-speaking director of the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs at Los Angeles and the editor of El Espector, a newspaper in San Bernardino; the Reverend R. N. Nunez, an American citizen of Mexican descent, ordained Catholic priest and the pastor of the San Bernardino Guadalupe Church Parish; Eugenio Nogueroa, an American citizen of Latin descent, a graduate of Cayey High School, Puerto Rico, and of the University of Puerto Rico, a former member of the 76th Field Artillery Third Division, United States Army, and editor and publisher, and a resident and taxpayer of San Bernardino; Virginia Prado, a student, a citizen of the United States and a resident of the City of San Bernardino, who was of Mexican descent; and Rafael Munoz, a student of Mexican descent and a resident of the City of San Bernardino.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on February 5, 1944 found that “all of the petitioners herein contribute to the financial support and maintenance of said park, playground, swimming pool, plunge, and facilities mentioned and each and all of the petitioners are citizens and contributors and are beneficially interested in the privileges, management, control, use and occupation of said facilities as heretofore stated, and as members of the public and citizens of the United States, are entitled to admission and the use and enjoyment of said playground, swimming pool, plunge, bathhouse and facilities.”
The decision went on to state that all of the “petitioners are of clean and moral habits not suffering any disability, infectious disease, nor have they any physical or mental defect, but in all other respects are persons proper and qualified to be admitted to and enjoy the use of said bathhouse, plunge, swimming pool, park, playground, and all facilities in connection therewith. That their admission to and the use of said bathhouse, pool, plunge and facilities within said park and playground is not inimical, harmful or detrimental to the health, welfare or safety of other users thereof. This Court finds as true that for several years last past all persons of Mexican or Latin descent or extraction, though citizens of the United States of America have on repeated occasions been excluded, barred and precluded from using, enjoying or entering upon that portion of said park and playground containing said swimming pool, plunge, bath house and facilities, by respondents, their servants, agents and employees.”
The court found that exclusion was “based solely upon the fact that petitioners are of Mexican or Latin descent” and that Secombe and Holcomb, along with Case, Roberts, Shafer, Sheehan, Cole, Griffin and Bristow, their servants, agents, and employees, “denied petitioners the right to enter and use said privileges based solely upon the fact that petitioners were of Mexican and Latin descent or extraction at various times too numerous to mention and particularly on or about the first day of September, 1943” when the petitioners “have sought admission to the facilities of said park as mentioned, during hours when same were open to the public at large.”
Holcomb’s conduct, and that of Secombe, Case, Roberts, Shafer, Sheehan, Cole, Griffin and Bristow was, the court said “illegal and is in violation of petitioners’ rights and privileges, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America, and as secured and guaranteed to them as citizens of the United States, by the Constitution of the United States of America, as particularly provided under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.” The petitioners and the some 8,000 other persons of Mexican and Latin descent were, the court ruled, “entitled to such equal accommodations, advantages and privileges and to equal rights and treatment with other persons as citizens of the United States, in the use and enjoyment of the facilities of said park and playground and to equal treatment with other persons and to the equal protection of the laws.”
History does not record whether Holcomb actually felt himself personally chastened by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California’s ruling, which proved a landmark one moving California toward de facto segregation. Whatever the case, Holcomb did not seek reelection to the city council that year. Instead, he ran for the post of Fifth District San Bernardino County, defeating the incumbent, Jess Stout, in the November 1944 election.
Holcomb represented the Fifth District for two terms, serving from December 4, 1944 until December 1, 1952.
Aside from his status as an elected official, Holcomb was notable for his other activities as a leading citizen of San Bernardino and San Bernardino County. He was president of the 44th National Orange Show in 1959 and served on its board of directosrs for many years. He was the chairman of the board of directors of the Sierra Savings and Loan Association from January 1959 until December 1969, vice president of the Security Title Insurance Company from August 15, 1958 until December 31, 1965 and president fo the Holcomb and McClintock Petroelum Distribution Firm from 1945 to 1957.
On October 1, 1953, the Metropolitan Automotive Accessories Warehouse was established. It was jointly founded by Mssers, H.L. Holcomb, O.C. McClintock, C.H. Spencer, L. W. Sackerson and H.C. Sherrel. Mr Sackerson was the first president and Mr. Holcomb was a vice-president. Holcomb served as president of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District from February 25, 1954 until January 1, 1957. He also served on the city’s recreation, police fire and parks commissions and was on the board of directors of the chamber of commerce, community hospital, Red Cross and the Community Chest.
In the mid-1960s, Holcomb advocated for having San Bernardino join the Metropolitan Water District, saying it needed to do so to become “a thriving metropolis” or slip into being a “a depression-ridden, growth-stunted little town if we don’t. I shudder to think of what will happen if water is rationed in San Bernardino,” he was quoted as saying by the San Bernardino Sun in April 1964. “I’d hate to be one of those responsible for it if it ever comes to pass.”
Holcomb decried the then-ongoing efforts of the city to use eminent domain to commandeer local water companies and districts and wells owned by individuals. He said it would be less expensive for the city to join Metropolitan Water District than to “continue these fantastic schemes and these cannibalistic attempts to grab the water of our own farmers.” He said the district was unlikely to win its condemnation suits and “lets hope they don’t. If they should win the Gage Canal Co. suit it would cost $35 to $40 million.” He said the city was spinning its wheels by carrying 40 per cent of the district’s tax burden for “no results at all.” He said the city had neglected positioning itself advantageously with regard to water and was acting at the last minute after the circumstance had worsened. He called the water condemnation efforts “last minute fantasies in the way of water. Are they valid? They may sound good. If they can be done now, why weren’t they done years ago? If the water is there now, why hasn’t it been found until this last minute? As a long-time public worker I believe we should do what the rest of Southern California has dones: join Metropolitan and grow!”
Despite Holcomb’s importuning, San Bernardino did not join the Metropolitan Water District.
Holcomb was a member of the San Bernardino Masonic Lodge #348, the Elks Club, the Shriners Club, the United Commercial Travelers and the Rotary Club. He served as a trustee and elder of the First Presbyterian Exchange Club.
His wife died on June 3, 1969 and Holcomb died on June 7, 1971. He was survived by his daughter Margaret ( Mrs. Robert J. Schwarz), three grandsons and two grand daughters. He was a cousin of San Bernardino’s mayor W.R. Holcomb.

White-Tailed Kite Elanus Leucurus

White Kite

The white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus) is an elanid kite of genus Elanus found in western North America and parts of South America.
These bird’s coloration is gull-like, but their shape and flight falcon-like, with a rounded tail. Mainly white underneath, they have black wingtips and shoulders. Adults have long, narrow, pointed wings and a long white tail, gray back and wings. Adults generally sport a white face and underside, with a black spot on inner portion of wings. Their eyes are red.
Juveniles are similar to adults, but with buffy streaks on the breast and head, gray with white-tipped or scalloped feathers on the back, and yellow eyes.
A mid-sized kite, it measures 14 to 17 inches in length, spans 35–40 inches across the wings and weighs 8.8 to 13.4 ounces. Both the wings, at 11.4 to 12.9 inches each, and the tail, at 5.9 to 7.3 inches, are relatively elongated. The tarsus measures around 1.4 inches.
Formerly confused with the black-winged kite of Europe and Africa as Elanus caeruleus and collectively referred to as the black-shouldered kite, the white-tailed kite is now distinguished from the Old World species in size, shape, plumage, and behavior by the American Ornithologists’ Union, and is once again called the black-winged kite.
Because of shooting and egg-collecting, the white-tailed kite was rendered nearly extinct in California in the 1930s and 1940s. The birds’ numbers are growing. In recent weeks, white tailed kites were an issue in San Bernardino County, as the Harmony development in Highland/Mentone is encroaching on their known habitat locally. They are distributed irregularly in California at this point, being found in the Central Valley and southern coastal areas, open land around Goleta including on Ellwood Mesa, marshes in Humboldt County, around the San Francisco Bay and in the San Bernardino Mountains. Elsewhere they are still rare. They are also found in southern Texas, on the Baja California Peninsula, and in eastern Mexico. On rare occasions the bird can be found far outside its usual range. At different times, two had been sighted in New England as of 2010.
A medium-sized raptor of open grasslands, lowland scrub and savannas, the White-tailed Kite is readily identified by its bright plumage and its habit of hovering while hunting for small mammals, particularly feeding on rodents. The are readily seen patrolling, but they rarely if ever eat other birds, and even in open cerrado, mixed-species feeding flocks will generally ignore them. Outside the breeding season, they roost communally in groups of up to 100.


Grace Bernal’s California Style: Caping Toward Fall

August 26August 26 Style

Fashion is all about dressing for the weather, and what people want to buy and wear. It’s easy to wear whatever, but as we exit summer and enter into a cooler season, the excitement is blooming. There is nothing like the changing of the season and looking to dress for it. The fashion scene is taking a turn, and with it so many neat pieces are coming into play, such as velvety sleeve and tinselly coats. One neat statement piece is the capelet. Capelets are retro, much like the choker neck piece. The chic capelet makes the perfect cover up for the transitioning weather. It’s an adorable warm keeper and perfect for the fall/ winter weather. The cape can be worn over your long/short sleeves, dresses, and bodysuits, too. It really depends on what you’re in the mood for with the capelet, be it daily use, Little Black Dress evening caping, over a jacket, or making a funky outfit with a capelet as the crowning addition. There is a lot more coming around as the summer season slowly comes to an end, and it’s going to be exciting! This is only a hint of what is in store. In the meantime, get your cape on and get ready!

I’ve always thought of accessories as the exclamation point of a woman’s outfit.” —Michael Kors