There are stark differences between the two finalists in this year’s race for First District Supervisor. The incumbent, Robert Lovingood, after four years in office, is a fixture in the county’s political establishment.
The challenger, a former office holder, has garnered a reputation as a political outsider perennially cast, it seems, as a dissident challenging the status quo. Lovingood, despite his incumbency and status as a pillar of the government as it is currently composed, is a creature of the private sector, the owner of a successful employment agency. Valles’ professional associations are heavily identified with the public sector in that the most significant positions she has held were with public agencies or entities functioning under the aegis of a governmental contract. She began her professional career as a correctional officer in 1997 at the Victor Valley Medium Community Correctional Facility, a privately-owned facility which had a contract with the California Department of Corrections. In time she would advance to become the warden at the prison. She is currently, and has been for most of the last eleven years an employee with the Victor Valley Waste Water Reclamation Authority, a joint powers agency which conjoins five governmental entities, including the Oro Grande and Spring Valley Lake San Bernardino County Service Areas, the City of Hesperia, the Town of Apple Valley and City of Victorville. Valles is married to Rick Roelle, a former Apple Valley mayor and councilman who is also a retired sheriff’s lieutenant and recipient of a $98,312.37 per year pension. As such, Valles has been endorsed by the union representing the county’s nearly 18,000 employees, Teamsters Local 1932.
This union endorsement of Valles, a challenger, is a rarity in San Bernardino politics, as the public employees unions reflexively support incumbent politicians, a safe ploy, as incumbent members of the board of supervisors since 1980 have won more than 78 percent of the contests they have participated in.
So, it would seem, Valles can count on getting solid support from government employees and their families, those who see it in their personal interest to provide public employees with job security and generous wages and benefits. And those public employee unions, including the Teamsters, stand ready to spend considerable money to promote Valles and her candidacy. Those political contributions will translate into her ability to purchase advertising – newspaper, radio and television spots – touting her ability to lead. And her political war chest, swelling with union and public employee provided funds, will be able to pay for slick and glossy mailers to be sent to the voters in the First District who in the past have most often showed up to vote either at the polls or by absentee ballot. Those mailers will almost assuredly depict Valles standing next to a sheriff’s car, talking to a deputy, in one photo; either in front of a fire station or next to a firetruck conversing with some firefighters in another photo; listening intently to some elderly people at one of the High Desert’s senior citizens centers; and in another photo speaking with a young mother pushing a stroller near a tot lot at a local park images that will appeal to the lowest common denominator among citizens who yet have faith in government. The upshot of the mailer will be that Valles is attuned to and attentive of the various needs of the community. That mailer will convince many people who have no strong feelings one way or the other to vote for her.
Conversely, Lovingood finds himself in the position of having to celebrate himself as the candidate who is not in step with public employees in general and the county’s public employees in particular. Unable to rely on funding from the government employees and their unions, Lovingood’s game plan consists of using his business credentials to provide him not only with entré to monetary donors but to also make credible and legitimate his claim to being in a position to “run the county like a business.”
Thus, Lovingood’s primary constituency in this year’s race are the many First District’s residents fed up with government intrusion into their lives through overregulation and taxation, the many citizens who see government as ineffective, and the significant number of voters who have come to resent county employees represented by a powerful public employees union that has extorted from the county’s political leadership salaries and wages two to three times the rate of what is paid in the private sector for comparable work augmented by pensions that dwarf their own. In this way, the race can be seen in terms of a contest between common citizens and governmental employees, with the former putting their faith in Lovingood, hoping he will carry forth proposals to take the public unions down a notch or two or maybe even three, resist demands that overpaid county workers be paid ever more, terminate unproductive members of county staff and reduce the burden on taxpayers generally.
Well before Valles declared her candidacy for supervisor, she threw down the gauntlet with Lovingood, charging that almost from the time he became supervisor nearly four years ago, there was an inherent conflict between his status as an aggressive businessman and his holding of public office.
By 2013, Valles had developed a theory that Lovingood, as supervisor and as the owner of ICR Staffing Services, was entangled in a conflict of interest that puts him at odds with the district’s residents. Valles maintains that ICR’s contract with the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority has pushed Lovingood into the area of illegality, since one of the constituents of the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority is San Bernardino County and, by the terms of its charter, one of its board members is the First District Supervisor. Valles documented that ICR has received at least $560,000 in fees from the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority.
Lovingood, however, has refuted Valles’ claim, asserting that the conflict is a manufactured one. He points out that ICR’s contract with the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority predated his election as supervisor and that he prudently avoided being seated as the authority’s board member, conscientiously and fastidiously remaining above such a conflict. Instead, Lovingood pointed out, James Ramos, one of his colleagues on the board of supervisors, has served in his stead on the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Board. Valles has retorted that this arrangement, in which the First District supervisor has not represented the Victor Valley’s residents but rather left them to be represented by someone who neither lives in the area nor was elected by them, violates the Victor Valley Wastewater Authority’s charter.
Lovingood’s forces have turned the tables on Valles, pointing out that she is employed by the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority, such that she is now striving to become her own boss.
Lovingood’s strongest suit is that he embodies the ethos of the private sector. Unlike Valles, Lovingood has made his way in the world as a businessman, one who must meet a payroll every week, one who has provided gainful employment for his employees, one who pays taxes and feels the lash and burden of governmental regulation and taxation on his daily function. He proudly contrasts his resumé with that of Valles, who has worked much of her life in the public sector. Lovingood, as a taxpayer, can assert that he represents the common man in a way that Valles, who is supported by the taxpayers, simply cannot.
The incumbent, representing the lion’s share of the county’s desert residents, has put his strongest foot forward by championing aggressive construction and economic development in the desert.
Still others are concerned that Lovingood is too close to and too indulgent of the corporate world.
A case in point consists of his support of Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc.’s project to extract billions of gallons of ancient and pristine water lying in the aquifers of the East Mojave Desert, which it could then sell for use in urban Orange County, Los Angeles County and Riverside counties.
The loss of that water availability will, his opponents claim, limit the desert’s ability to achieve its own development potential, now and well into the future.
Cadiz, Inc. achieved permission to proceed with what it refers to as Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, which would sink 34 wells into the desert on property owned by the company to tap into water from the aquifers beneath both the Cadiz and Fenner valleys. The water will then be conveyed through a 44-mile long pipeline to be constructed along a railroad right-of-way until it meets up with the aqueduct that carries Colorado River water to the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas, Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County seved as the lead public agency overseeing the environmental assessment of and permitting of the project. The Santa Margarita Water District, the second-largest water agency in Orange County which is located more than 200 miles from where the 50,000 acre-feet of water is to be drawn on an annual basis, is one of the scheduled purchasers of the water, along with Three Valleys Water District, which provides water to the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley, and Eastern San Gabriel Valley; the Golden State Water Company, which serves several communities in Southern California, including Claremont; Suburban Water Systems, which serves Covina, West Covina and La Mirada; and the Jurupa Community Services District, which serves Mira Loma in Riverside County.
There are significant numbers of desert residents who believe it was absolutely inappropriate for the ater agency from Orange County, in particular one which stood to benefit from the outcome, to have been allowed to oversee the California Environmental Quality Act review process for the project, given that the members of the Santa Margarita Water District Board do not represent the Mojave Desert and are not answerable to the Mojave Desert’s voters.
Moreover, the removal of that water from the region severely complicates, limits or obliterates the prospect that development will be able to take place in the region, as water availability is a requisite to such activity.
Four years ago, during Lovingood’s initial run for the board, the Cadiz Water Project was a roiling topic. Since then it has been delayed by legal, procedural and environmental challenges. Lovingood said at that time, “There is a storied history to the use of water in California and we wouldn’t have some of the urban areas we have if water was not taken from one place to be used in another,” Lovingood said. “Inherently, water rights come with property. I am in favor of property rights. If you own property, then there is ownership of the water. Much of this issue would be controlled by the environmental impact report.”
Valles said, “I am not taking large contributions from a company that is diverting our water in large amounts. I am not going to vote away our precious water resource, even if I am overruled by the other members of the board. We need our supervisors to protect our residents. I think it is shameful the way they have given away our water while we are in a drought.”
In the primary election held on June 7, with five candidates in the race – Lovingood, Valles, Valles’ husband Rick Roelle, Hesperia Councilman Bill Holland and and Hesperia Councilman Paul Russ, Lovingood polled 20,772 votes, or 36.55 percent. Valles captured 14,809 votes or 26.06 percent.
Different handicappers of the race interpret the June results more or less favorably for either of the candidates. Undeniably, Lovingood and Valles are in a footrace for the votes that three months ago went to Roelle, Holland and Russ. Some see in this an advantage to Lovingood, who outpolled Valles by more than ten percent and who now needs to pick up only a little more than a third of the 37.39 percent of the votes that went to the three also-rans in the June primary, while Valles in the general election will need to nearly double her showing in that race to win. Others, however, point out that as an incumbent, Lovingood was able to poll just slightly more than a third of the overall vote, meaning approaching two-thirds of the district’s voters were indisposed to retaining him in office.
Lovingood has the advantage of the support of his board colleagues, all of whom have endorsed him. Yet in the First District, the county’s largest supervisorial district geographically, voters are not enamored of or particularly respectful toward politicians from elsewhere in the county. That is a circumstance of geography. Much of the First District is remote and isolated from the rest of the districts. The Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth districts are located in a relatively compact area in comparison to the First District and share much common infrastructure which is not shared with the First District. Thus, historically, the First District has become something of an ill-treated stepsister compared to the remainder of the county. First District residents are highly conscious of that and are distrustful, disrespectful and dismissive of their supervisors who are too chummy with their San Bernardino colleagues. No First District supervisor since Arthur Doran, who was appointed by Governor C.C. Young on December 2, 1928 to succeed C.S. Crain as First District San Bernardino County Supervisor after Crain’s death and then served as supervisor until 1948, has managed to remain in office for more than two four-year terms. A political hazard that comes with the First District job is that good relations with one’s colleagues at the county seat seems to translate into disfavor with the voters in the district.