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Monthly Archives: January 2017
State Now Probing Nestlé’s San Bernardino Mountain H2O Diversion
By Amanda Frye and Mark Gutglueck
The California Water Resources Control Board has an active investigation into Nestlé Waters of North America, Inc.’s extraction of water from Strawberry Canyon/Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest. That diversion is taking place off Highway 18 and Red Rock Wall, which is identified on mapping documents as being located within Township 2 N Range 3W Section 30. The U.S. Forest Service has allowed Nestlé to extract upwards of 30 million of gallons of water annually from the San Bernardino National Forest without the validation of the water rights Nestlé asserts and regardless of past drought conditions, or endangered or threatened species and habitat. The State Water Board has publicly stated that Nestlé is taking forest groundwater in the upper Strawberry Creek watershed, which Nestlé then bottles and sells under the Arrowhead brand. Nestlé claims it utilizes a total of 13 different mountain springs to produce Arrowhead water, including the Strawberry Creek source and another in the foothills north of Rancho Cucamonga. According to available statistics, Arrowhead water sales account for 3.5 percent of the $11.8 billion annual spending on bottled water in the United States, or $413 million in revenue to the company.
Nestlé’s continuing operation of its Strawberry Canyon water extraction program has outraged environmentalists, who say the Swiss-based company’s huge profits continue to grow as damage to the forest continues, and endangered and threatened species and habitats suffer.
Nestlé and its corporate predecessors have been draining the Upper Strawberry Creek watershed since 1929.
The State Water Resource Control Board received multiple complaints against Nestlé last spring including a 500 signature petition. In May 2016, the U.S. Forest Service also asked the Board to investigate the validity of Nestlé’s water rights in Upper Strawberry canyon. The State Water Board conducted a site inspection of Nestlé’s diversion sites in June 2016.
The California Water Resources Control Board, known as the State Water Board, and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards in the state, protect water quality and allocate surface water rights.
Charged with preserving, enhancing and restoring the quality of California’s water resources and drinking water for the protection of the environment, public health, and all beneficial uses, the water boards regulate wastewater discharges into the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes as well as into aquifers and water tables. The water boards also regulate storm water discharges from construction, industrial, and municipal activities; discharges from irrigated agriculture; dredge and fill activities; the alteration of any federal water body; and several other activities with practices that could degrade water quality.
Under its charter the State Water Resources Control Board exists to ensure proper water resource allocation and efficient use, for the benefit of present and future generations.
The water board’s investigation comes at a crucial time since the U.S. Forest Service is currently reviewing Nestlé’s pipeline permit and water diversion operation occurring at approximately 5,000 feet in the Upper Strawberry Canyon watershed. This review is being carried out under the auspices of the National Environmental Policy Act, the outcome of which could provide Nestlé with the ability to continue forest groundwater withdrawals from the endangered watershed for the next generation. The pipeline permit to transport this extracted water through the San Bernardino National Forest expired 30 years ago, but has remained in effect for three decades while federal officials have dithered in undertaking a comprehensive environmental review that would either justify the active renewal and extension of the permit or mandate its termination.
Nestlé Waters of North America, a corporate subsidiary of the Swiss-owned Nestlé Corporation, acquired the expired permit from Perrier when it bought out that entity in 1992.
Perrier had acquired the permit when it purchased the BCI-Arrowhead Drinking Water Co. in 1987, at which time the permit was yet active. That permit allowed the holder to extract water from a significant below-ground source in the San Bernardino Mountains.
In May 1987, Perrier filed a letter with the United States Forest Service, prior to the permit’s expiration, seeking the permit’s extension. The Forest Service deemed that letter a “timely and sufficient application for renewal,” and instead of carrying out a full environmental review to issue a new permit, it merely accepted the $524 Nestlé and its corporate predecessors previously paid as an annual permit renewal fee. Nestlé has now made 29 and counting annual extensions of the expired permit. Nestlé continues to pay $524 each year to perpetuate that renewal process for a permit that was originally issued to what was at least the fourth corporate predecessor to the current Nestlé’s Arrowhead water bottling operation.
Because of mounting pressure put on it by environmentalists and California citizens, the U.S. Forest Service in 2015 agreed to make the review of the permit under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), proceedings which commenced last year.
The Sentinel obtained access to a letter from The U.S. Forest Service that states “the San Bernardino National Forest is currently working with Nestle Corporation to evaluate its permit and environmental impacts of Strawberry Creek.” Nevertheless, many environmentalists insist that the U.S. Forest Service’s evaluation of Nestlé’s permit is collusive in nature instead of an independent objective evaluation. Nestlé is paying for the evaluations.
The State Water Resource Control Board database reflects that Nestlé’s water diversion on U.S. Forest land at 5,000 feet in Strawberry Canyon is recorded as groundwater extractions. These wells are listed as belonging to Arrowhead Drinking Water Co., which is a “surrendered,” i.e., no longer existing, corporation, according to the Secretary of State database. State Water Resource Control Board spokesperson Tim Moran said, “If our ownership records are different from actual ownership, it is because we have not been notified. The listing of Arrowhead as primary owner does not necessarily mean that Nestlé does not own the rights. Nestlé may own the right and it simply never updated the record.”
Arrowhead Drinking Water Co. was the name Arrowhead water legally operated under during its ownership by the Beatrice Foods Company. The name changed in 1987 when Beatrice sold Arrowhead to Perrier. In 1987, the legal name became Arrowhead Water Corp.
The San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District is the local agency appointed by the State Water Resource Board to receive the groundwater reports relating to Strawberry Canyon. The San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District collects ground water recordation reports submitted by Nestlé. According to San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, Arrowhead Drinking Water Co. is the name of the groundwater recordation filings on Nestlé’s wells in upper Strawberry Canyon. Since 1947 Nestlé and its predecessor have reported groundwater withdrawals in upper Strawberry Canyon on National Forest lands. The State Water Resource Control Board confirms that most of these groundwater filings were in 1957 by Nestlé’s predecessors-in-interest.
The State Water Resource Control Board has confirmed that Nestlé’s “spring water” extractions are reported as 12 site “groundwater recordations.” In fact, the only appropriated spring water right for this location is the U.S. San Bernardino National Forest, which is confirmed by the State Water Resource documents. The spring historical flow has been listed as 10,000 gallons per day. In 1940, the State Water Resource Board confirmed to the U.S. Forest Service that the U.S. Forest Service is the only holder of water rights in this quarter section.
Overlaying landowners have the groundwater rights, according to the State Water Resource Control Board. “Groundwater may be appropriated for use outside the basin, but appropriator’s rights are subordinate to overlying rights,” according to the water board. The site of Nestlé’s groundwater land is U.S. Forest land. Therefore, the U.S. Forest Service is the overlaying landowner where Nestlé is taking the groundwater. The State Water Resource Board website describes federal reserved rights as “the water set aside by the federal government when it reserves land for the public domain.” This section of the San Bernardino National Forest was established on February 25, 1893. The federal government gave public notice on April 2, 1894 for any legitimate claims to be filed within 90 days. There is no proof that any of Nestlé’s predecessors had legitimate pre-1914 claims in the upper Strawberry Creek watershed in the National Forest (Township 2 North Range 3 W Section 30 SBBM).
The validity of Nestlé’s asserted water rights are being challenged. Nestlé and its corporate predecessors have relied exclusively on an unchallenged permit by the U.S. Forest Service. Nestlé asserts that its water rights in the Upper Strawberry Canyon go back to a possessory claim for 160 acres at 2,000 feet. This possessory claim is in a completely different township and range over two miles distant and at an elevation 3,000 feet below the disputed groundwater withdrawal site. The possessory claim involves no water claims in the Upper Strawberry Canyon watershed at 5,000 feet. Furthermore, subsequently filed and recorded legal documents associated with the possessory claim lands show no water rights in Upper Strawberry Canyon. A 1915 deed for the possessory claim property shows no claims in Upper Strawberry Canyon, which supports that Nestle has no pre-1914 rights in Upper Strawberry Canyon.
Court pleadings from litigation referred to as the Del Rosa lawsuit constitute other documents that Nestlé offers as proof of water rights. However, the Forest Service is not a party to the lawsuit and it is never mentioned that the land and water is within the San Bernardino National Forest. The lawsuit judgment awarded California Consolidated Water was for “spring water” in Upper Strawberry Creek. The judgment only mentioned sections 31 and 32, with no mention whatsoever of section 30, the site of Nestlé’s current groundwater withdrawal.
Moreover, under the California Water Code, diversions of water from surface or subterranean streams require an appropriative permit issued by the State Water Board unless such diversions are made relying upon an existing riparian right or an actual pre-1914 appropriative right. An examination of the documents Nestlé asserts in making that claim do not appear to validate its right to the water it is using.
Nestlé spokeswoman Jane Lazgin did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The Women League of Voters and Save Our Forest Association will be hosting a forum to discuss the Nestlé water diversion issue on Sunday, January 29 at Twin Peaks Community Center starting at 2:00 pm. A second meeting will be held Monday, January 30 6:00-7:30 pm at the San Bernardino Valley College Library Meeting Room, 701 South Mt. Vernon Ave, San Bernardino, CA 92410.
Adelanto Sacks Flores
The City of Adelanto has terminated the contract it has with Jessie Flores to serve as its economic development consultant manager, effective a week from today.
Though Flores was able to fly under the radar during the nearly ten months he has had a consultancy to attract businesses to and generate economic development for Adelanto as well as during the two years he served on the Adelanto Planning Commission prior to that, early this year his checkered past and questionable political and professional associations caught up with him.
In 2006, Flores initiated a relationship with Bill Postmus, who was then First District San Bernardino County supervisor, obtaining a job as a member of the First District supervisorial staff. When Postmus departed to become county assessor in 2007, Flores remained in place in the First District office as a staff member of Postmus’s handpicked successor, Brad Mitzelfelt.
Within two years, Postmus and his career as a public official would implode in what is arguably the largest political corruption scandal in San Bernardino County history.
Undaunted by the end of his political career, Postmus enlisted Flores; Charles Steven Cox; Mitzelfelt; Dino DeFazio, one of Postmus’s business partners and the owner of D & D Real Estate; Adam Aleman, who was formerly one of Postmus’s field representatives and later one of Postmus’s assistant assessors caught up, arrested and convicted in the aforementioned political scandal; Hesperia Unified School District Trustee Anthony Riley, a Postmus political ally; Sentry Home Loans owner and Boys and Girls Club President Helene Harris and her husband Hendon Harris; Mitchel E. Pullman, a principal in Arrowhead Properties, IV, LLC; and Peggy Baker, Charles Steven Cox’s sister-in-law, to create an entity, the Adelanto Charter Academy, which was successfully chartered by the Adelanto School District on August 19, 2009. Postmus, Flores, Cox, Mitzelfelt, DeFazio, Aleman, Riley, the Harrises, Pullman and Baker then looted the charter school, an alternative education venue established using government funding but operating with the sponsorship of, and independently from, an existing public school system.
The group set up a series of for-profit ventures that were hired by the charter school to manage the day-to-day operations and provide academic supplies such as books, paper, pens, pencils, desks, chairs, projectors, computers, etc, at highly inflated rates.
In November 2010, an audit cataloging significant shortcomings in the school’s operations was released, and on May 17, 2011, the Adelanto School District revoked the charter it had granted to the Adelanto Charter Academy. The Adelanto Charter Academy immediately appealed the decision to the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, who upheld the Adelanto School District’s decision on August 1, 2011. The Adelanto Charter Academy appealed the decision to the California Department of Education and continued to operate until notified on April 17, 2012, that “your administrative remedies are exhausted” and “any further appeal of revocation must be sought in a court of local jurisdiction.”
By that point, the eleven individuals behind the school had diverted somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.1 million in money that had been intended for the education of students to their own pockets and bank accounts. The vehicles used to do that included Greater High Desert Lawncare Services, owned by Flores, which billed the charter school; Professional Charter Management, Inc. a since-dissolved corporation with Jessie Flores as its chief executive officer and Dino DeFazio in the capacities of chief financial officer and secretary and Kari Murdock as agent for service of process; and Diamond Limousines, owned by Flores and which billed Adelanto Charter Academy for the use of its limousines. The Adelanto Charter Academy paid those bills.
A group of Adelanto citizens retained the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm, which through attorney Bradley Hertz made three public records requests with the city earlier this month for records pertaining to Flores’ employment, invoices, payments made, reimbursements and emails.
On January 19, Adelanto City Manager Cindy Herrera posted to Flores a letter in which she said, “the city is terminating the independent contractor agreement entered into between Municipal Economic Development Service, Inc. [Flores’ company] and the City of Adelanto on March 29, 2016. The official date of termination will be February 3, 2017. The city is not accusing, or insinuating that, you engaged in any unethical behavior, but the city has a duty to investigate the repeated allegations of misconduct and must suspend this agreement in the meantime.”
Flores has not responded for comment. He has, however, previously asserted that his efforts on behalf of the city were instrumental in establishing the Adelanto Grand Prix and Adelanto Rodeo events and attracting the semi-professional baseball team, the High Desert Yardbirds of the Pecos League, to fill the gap created by the city having terminated the arrangement it had with the California League’s High Desert Mavericks,who for 25 years used Stater Bros. Stadium as that team’s home field.
Prosecution Bogs Down As Former State Legislators Offer Problematic Testimony
By Mark Gutglueck
The prosecution in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case encountered rough sledding during the fourth week of what is expected to be a marathon trial. When the hearing before Judge Michael Smith concluded on Thursday afternoon, the testimony of the fourth witness to be called had yet to conclude.
More than 200 witnesses are anticipated to be heard before the matter goes to the two juries impaneled to hear evidence, one which will decide the fate of defendant Jim Erwin and another which is sitting in judgment over his remaining codefendants, Jeff Burum, Paul Biane and Mark Kirk. Bill Postmus, against whom criminal charges were lodged in a preceding related case, has already pled guilty to ten charges involving extortion, bribery and conspiracy, and has agreed to turn state’s evidence against the other four in return for leniency in sentencing. His testimony, which is likely to prove the centerpiece of the entire exposition upon which the defendants’ guilt or innocence is to be determined, is anticipated at some indefinite point in the weeks or perhaps months ahead.
At present and for the last three weeks, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope and Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandel have been attempting to set the stage for Postmus’s grand entrance.
According to the 2011 indictment, after more than four years of legal wrangling between the Colonies Partners and the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and the Crossroad Colonies commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland, Colonies Partners managing principal Jeff Burum, with the assistance of former deputy sheriff’s union president Jim Erwin, threatened Postmus and Biane by preparing to make in the Fall of 2006 mass mailings to county voters of “hit pieces” dwelling on highly derogatory personal information relating to the two politicians as Postmus was vying for county assessor and Biane was promoting Measure P, calling for a pay boost for county supervisors, which was on the ballot in the November 2006 election. Ultimately, according to prosecutors, those political hit pieces were withheld and Postmus was elected assessor and Measure P was approved. Three weeks after the election, Postmus and Biane, along with supervisor Gary Ovitt, voted to settle the Colonies lawsuit for $102 million. Over the first six months of 2007, the Colonies Partners made separate $100,000 donations to political action committees prosecutors say Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff to Gary Ovitt, controlled. Those donations, totaling $400,000, were, prosecutors allege, bribes given in reward for the approval of the settlement. Prosecutors maintain that Kirk influenced Ovitt to deliver his vote in favor of the settlement.
Following opening statements by Cope for the prosecution and Stephen Larson for Burum and Raj Maline for Jim Erwin in the trial’s first week and the early days of the second week, Cope began to lay the foundation of the case with the prosecution’s first witness, former county supervisor Dennis Hansberger, one of the two supervisors who opposed the settlement with the Colonies Partners.
Hansberger was able to lay out a scenario that was for the most part consistent with the prosecution’s perspective, painting the Colonies subdivisions as having been approved by the City of Upland on property zoned as open space that was crisscrossed with flood control easements and a long-existing former rock quarry spread over 31 acres. Hansberger testified that the county flood control district, which had built for the city a storm drain to alleviate flooding from a portion of the northern part of Upland and the then-recently constructed 210 Freeway which increased the value of the Colonies Partners’ commercial property, rightly assumed it had the right to use that 31-acre quarry, which he referred to as “a hole in the ground,” as a holding basin for the water from the storm drain. Hansberger asserted that the Colonies Partners’ lawsuit, which alleged damages based upon the vectoring of the water onto the property the company intended to develop, was of highly questionable merit and that the monetary damages the company claimed were unsupportable given the zoning on the property and its status as flood control property/open space, to which the Colonies Partners had no developmental entitlement nor reasonable expectation of use other than to accommodate floodwater runoff. Hansberger further testified with regard to the early efforts by Biane to push and the later efforts by Postmus to stampede the board of supervisors into a settlement of the lawsuit in a manner and ultimately at a monetary level – $102 million – he and all of the county’s lawyers felt inappropriate and unjustifiable. After Cope finished with his questioning, Hansberger held up reasonably well under the aggressive, indeed sometimes ruthless, cross examination by both Larson and Maline and the somewhat less intense questioning by Biane’s attorney, Mark McDonald, and Kirk’s attorney Peter Scalisi.
Defense attorneys did get Hansberger to concede that he was unaware of documents that indicated the county flood district officials misled the Colonies developers on how much water was going to be directed to their property. He dismissed as impractical evidence that the “open space” designation could have been changed by the city if there was no basin. He also said that despite a Superior Court judge’s 2006 denouncement of the county’s actions, he believed that the county was in the right and that he believed what the county lawyers told him as opposed to the judge’s criticism.
Week Three closed out with what was the strongest showing of the prosecution so far, testimony from former Assemblyman Brett Granlund, who had been a friend and associate of Erwin. Granlund testified that in the months prior to the settlement, Erwin had bragged to him that he was going to be able to force Biane and Postmus to support the settlement by threatening to expose Biane as being on the brink of bankruptcy and having been caught in a compromising situation, while simultaneously threatening to reveal Postmus’s drug use and homosexuality.
That testimony, shoring up a major element of the prosecution’s theory of guilt – the extortion element – was heard only by the jury considering the case against Erwin. The jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk were not in the courtroom.
On Monday of this week, Kirk was late to the courtroom because snow in the mountains had prevented him from making it down to San Bernardino. With all four of the defendants’ attorneys present along with Erwin, Burum and Biane, Erwin’s jury was present for Maline’s cross examination of Granlund.
Maline pressed Granlund on when it was that Erwin had told Granlund about the plan to blackmail Biane and Postmus, and the accompanying timing of the digging through their trash to obtain derogatory information about them. While Granlund did not recede from his earlier statements to indicate that Erwin had told him of the effort to pressure Postmus and Biane, he at one point hinted that it might have been part of an earlier ploy by Erwin when he was still working on behalf of the sheriff’s deputies union, prior to the time he was working on behalf of Burum Colonies Partners, to successfully obtain for the county’s deputies retirement benefits that would allow them to retire at the age of 50 and receive pensions equal to three percent of each individual deputy’s highest yearly earnings times the number of years he or she was employed by the sheriff’s department. Granlund was unable to say that Erwin was threatening Postmus and Biane with exposure in the fall of 2006
“I only know that he told me they had access to Biane and Postmus’s trash,” Granlund said. Maline circled back to Granlund’s testimony the previous week that indicated Erwin was making those threats in the crucial time period of Fall 2006. “Deputy district attorney Cope drew you specifically into that time period,” Maline said, insinuating that Granlund had testified falsely. “I testified to the best of my recollection,” Granlund responded. “I cannot recite dates and times for the last ten years.”
Having succeeded in getting Granlund to become more tentative about the timeline of events, Maline sought to further take the sharp edge off of or otherwise blunt the damage Granlund had inflicted on his client. He suggested that Granlund and Erwin, who had once been close, had a row and that the ensuing animus was coloring Granlund’s testimony against his one-time friend.
“You had a falling out with Mr. Erwin,” Maline suggesterd.
“Jim had a falling out with me,” Granlund retorted. “It wasn’t my idea.”
Through further questioning, it was ascertained that it was the district attorney’s office’s serving of search warrants at Erwin’s office and at his home in January 2009 that precipitated the eventual rift between Erwin and Granlund. Both men had previously been close to district attorney Mike Ramos. The upshot of some of the exchange between Maline and Granlund illustrated that when the district attorney began targeting Erwin in 2009, Granlund gravitated toward an alignment with Ramos and further away from Erwin. The break between Erwin and Granlund did not come immediately, according to Granlund, who recounted a meeting he had with Erwin in February 2009 in Sacramento, where Granlund was working as a lobbyist with the firm Platinum Advisors. Though Granlund was indefinite as to the location – the Sacramento Sheraton Hotel – he was imprecise as to the date, but eventually Maline was able to have him accede to the meeting having occurred on February 18, 2009. In response to Maline’s question as to whether Ramos was the subject of their conversation, Granlund said, “Among other things, Mr. Erwin and I had a conversation in which he told me Mike [Ramos] was in Sacramento chasing girls, and I said, ‘No. I don’t believe that. He [Ramos] was coming up [to the state capital] and he was testifying.” Granlund indicated that Ramos declined to engage in any drinking or carousing with him and that he interpreted that to mean Ramos was engaging in no untoward activity. “I might see him, but by 5:30 or 6:00 he went up to his room,” Granlund said. “He was there to attend the crime victims board meetings or whatever. He did not come out and socialize with us in Sacramento.”
Maline, however, suggested that Erwin was at that point seeking to take legal action in response to the district attorney’s office’s action against him and that Ramos was engaged in a vendetta against Erwin because of rumors going around relating to Ramos’s womanizing. “They had served the search warrants the month before,” Maline said. “Mr. Erwin was hopping mad about it.” It was during that discussion, Maline suggested, that Granlund had disclosed the actual reason the district attorney’s office was persecuting his client. “You told Mr. Erwin that Mike Ramos was mad about [the reports relating to his womanizing] and he better stop talking shit about him and Doreen Boxer [San Bernardino County’s public defender, with whom Ramos was alleged to have been carrying on],” Maline asserted.
Granlund responded, “I thought it was ill-advised to be publicly trashing or criticizing the district attorney. Accusing the district attorney of personal bad behavior is something that was not very smart. He might end up indicted and sitting in a trial ten years later.”
In a recorded phone call with an investigator, Granlund said he had warned Erwin to end his personal attacks on Mike Ramos. “I said, “You’ve been in law enforcement. If you go after Mike [Ramos], you’ll have the whole [district attorney’s] office coming down on your ass,” the jury heard Granlund say in the recording.
Further on in the questioning, when Maline suggested that this was a warning that Granlund had been delivering to Erwin from Ramos, Granlund said he was not quoting Ramos verbatim but rather it was his “summation” of his conversation with Ramos about Erwin’s activities.
In a July 22, 2009 conversation with a district attorney’s office investigator, Maline said, Granlund had said that he had reported that it was Erwin spreading information with regard to Ramos’s womanizing. Maline then confronted Granlund, “In reality it was you spreading the rumors about Mike Ramos sleeping with women in Sacramento.” As Maline attempted to pursue that line of questioning, an objection was raised and sustained by Judge Smith.
On redirect questioning from Cope, Granlund insisted it was Erwin that said “He was going to expose him [Ramos].”
“Did Mr. Erwin ask you to do anything in going after Mr. Ramos?” Cope asked.
“Just to back up his story, be a witness or go along with the fact that Mr. Ramos was having various affairs.”
“Did he approach you more than once in this story he was developing? Cope asked.
“He was going to make it more about Ramos,” Granlund said. “I didn’t think it was a smart thing to poke the district attorney in the eye when you are the one on trial.”
Maline was able to get Granlund to say that he considered Bill Postmus to be his friend. Maline asked Granlund why he had not informed Postmus in 2006 that someone was digging through his trash in an effort to find damaging or embarrassing information about him.
“I didn’t want to get into it,” Granlund said. “I didn’t delve into it and I didn’t try to influence it.”
Maline further suggested that other factors had intensified Granlund’s animus toward Erwin, motivating him to use the opportunity the trial has presented to hurt him. Erwin had attacked Granlund in postings on his website, Inland Politics, Maline said, which had resulted in one of Granlund’s associates, David Ellis, failing to capture a county contract to manage retiree health benefits. Granlund denied that was a factor influencing his testimony.
Maline further suggested Granlund had been coached by the district attorney’s office to associate the blackmail material he had accumulated on Postmus and Biane with the Colonies settlement. In two recorded phone calls with district attorney’s investigators in 2009 and then in another recorded phone conversation with Postmus on October 24, 2011, Granlund makes no mention of the effort to blackmail Postmus and Biane in the fall of 2006. But after a phone call from district attorney’s office investigator Hollis Randles on October 29, 2011, Granlund discussed the matter in detail with Postmus in a call on November 1, 2011.
Despite the consideration that he represents a key witness in establishing the extortion element of the case that extends to Burum and Biane and his testimony before the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk was anticipated, after the grueling session with Maline on Monday, Granlund was dismissed as a witness early Tuesday morning. Because a juror was ill, there was no testimony that day.
On Wednesday, January 25, the prosecution called former state assemblyman and state senator Jim Brulte to the witness stand. Handling his examination was the member of the prosecution team, Melissa Mandel, who had been present throughout the earlier stages of the trial but had not provided the opening statement nor had handled the examination of Hansberger and Granlund.
Mandel is considered to be more dramatic and dynamic in her courtroom presence than the rather staid and plodding Cope, and it was thus anticipated there would be confrontational moments in the examination of Brulte. Despite her reputation of having a more aggressive approach than Cope, Mandel never seemed to get on track with Brulte. Indeed, to a certain extent Mandel came off as being starstruck by Brulte, the current chairman of the California Republican Party. More than a decade ago, he was the minority leader in both the California Assembly and the California Senate for the majority of his tenure in Sacramento and is the only freshman to ever serve as a party leader in both houses of the California State Legislature. In one of the more infamous episodes in the history of California politics, he very nearly became the Assembly Speaker in 1994 when the Republicans captured a majority of seats in the state’s lower legislative house, but was outmaneuvered when the former speaker, Willie Brown, engineered a deal with Republican defectors Doris Allen and Brian Setencich, both of whom were elected Speaker by the Democratic minority, during whose tenures, Brown was the de facto Speaker. Perhaps because of his stature, political, social and physical, Mandel was unable to puncture a hole of any significance in the 6-foot 4-inch Brulte’s armor.
Brulte was called to offer testimony regarding his role as a hired consultant who was called upon to aid Burum in achieving a settlement of the lawsuit.
Upon leaving the legislature in 2004 as a consequence of California’s term limits on state politicians, Brulte went to work almost immediately with the Sacramento-based government relations firm California Strategies, rising at once to the level of a full partner or principal after leaving the legislature. Through California Strategies, he was hired by Burum in December 2004 on a one-month contract. He was given three one-month extensions on that $10,000 per month contract.
He was hired, Brulte said, to “see if I could find a pathway settlement.” Brulte said that he knew nothing of the merits of the case when he was first retained. It was clear to him, Brulte said, that Burum was confirmed in his opinion that his position was valid. “Jeff thought like a typical businessman: ‘I’ve been wronged. I’m going to win.’ That was his mindset,” Brulte said.
Mandel asked Brulte if he thought that mindset was accurate.
Initially, Brulte said, “I didn’t have enough information to know.” He researched the matter, he said, by meeting with the Colonies Partners’ lawyers and came away with the belief the Colonies Partners were on strong legal ground.
Brulte said there was little prospect that the litigation, which at that point had gone on for more than two years, would settle prior to trial because the “narrative” playing out in the local media with regard to the litigation cast the Colonies Partners and Burum in a negative light. He said the Colonies were outgunned politically because the county employed a public spokesman who set the tone for how that narrative went. Meanwhile, Brulte said, Burum had convinced himself that reporters “always get the story wrong.” Brulte said he told Burum that “if you are not telling them your side of the story” the result would inevitably be newspaper coverage that was one-sidedly in favor of the county’s position, leaving the officials at the highest level of county government – the board of supervisors – disinclined to consider settling the case but rather seeing it through to trial.
“As long as the newspapers were talking about the righteousness of the county and the despicability of the developer, no politician in their right mind would settle because they would have a lot of explaining to do,” Brulte said. In essence, he said, the Colonies Partners were hampered by the depiction of the case as one involving an “evil, rich developer out to screw taxpayers. I didn’t think the narrative in the media space accurately reflected the truth.” He proposed that Burum “Start talking to the press and tell them your side,” telling him “You understand the case better than anyone.” Brulte said in this way the newspaper readers were presented with an alternative narrative, one that went “oppressive government screws private property owner.”
Brulte was retained in between two civil trials relating to the litigation. The Colonies Partners had prevailed at the trial that preceded Brulte’s hiring. The county appealed that verdict, rendered by Judge Peter Norell, who had ruled the county’s flood control easements on the Colonies property had been abandoned and were no longer in effect. Ultimately, the appellate court reversed Norell, saying the county was at liberty to continue to use the 31-acre basin specified under the easement recorded in 1933 and that the county and the Colonies Partners needed to return to the trial court to determine the terms under which the county would be able to use an additionally needed 29.88 acres to accommodate all of the storm water the county was diverting onto the Colonies property.
Brulte acknowledged that he had been something of a mentor to Bill Postmus, who had worked in his legislative office briefly in the early 1990s before departing to go to work for assembly members Kathleen Honeycutt and Keith Olberg.
Brulte said he arranged a meeting between Postmus and Burum at the Red Hill Country Club.
“I think Jeff’s a good guy, a pleasant guy, an honest guy,” Brulte said. “He understands development and he understands his case. You might think he had a law degree. Five members of the board of supervisors decide to sue or not to sue. My next advice to him was ‘You should meet the chairman of the board of supervisors.’”
Mandel took issue with the concept of principals involved in litigation meeting in a a forum without legal representation.
“You did know there were lawyers involved and that this was active litigation?” she asked. “These are opposing parties in litigation.”
“In my world, principals get together all the time to discuss issues,” Brulte said.
Brulte said that Postmus, Biane and the rest of the board of supervisors getting their information with regard to the lawsuit filtered through the county’s attorneys was not necessarily a good thing.
“People who are paid hundreds of dollars an hour to litigate like to litigate and government always pays its bills,” he said.
Toward the end of the time he was working on behalf of the Colonies Partners, Brulte accompanied Burum, Colonies Partners co-managing principal Dan Richards and the Colonies Partners attorneys to a meeting with Postmus and Biane and the county’s attorneys held on March 25, 2005, at Biane’s Rancho Cucamonga office. Brulte said he used a technique he had picked up while in the legislature of having the attorneys for both sides present their arguments. After a break, Brulte said, the attorneys were excluded from the room and during an ensuing session in which he, Burum, Richards, Postmus and Biane participated exclusively, a tentative settlement agreement for $77.5 million was hashed out, involving $22 million in cash to be paid to the Colonies Partners along with the transfer of roughly 600 acres of surplus flood control land in Rancho Cucamonga, which Brulte said Burum and Richards represented as being worth $55 million, and which they could develop. Ultimately that deal was never consummated.
In what came across as a tepid round of questioning, Mandel inquired of Brulte if Postmus and Biane had the authority to enter into a settlement agreement without attorneys present, whether there was an appraisal on the property and whether the Colonies Partners could document the $22 million in out of pocket costs they had accrued that the monetary component of the settlement was intended to redress. Brulte shook off the question about the need for the lawyers to be present and he indicated Biane and Postmus requested receipts from the Colonies Partners to show what the $22 million in damages was for. “You wouldn’t pay somebody out-of-pocket costs without knowing what the out-of-pocket costs were,” Brulte said.
The issue of the conference without attorneys present was a subject explored by Jennifer Keller, co-counsel to Burum’s lead defense attorney, Stephen Larson, as well as Judge Smith.
Keller asked if there was a requirement for lawyers to be present during the negotiations.
“None that I’m aware of,” Brulte responded.
Judge Smith asked Brulte if the county’s attorneys objected to being banned from the room during the negotiating session involving Burlte, Burum Richards, Postmus and Biane.
“I don’t think the county’s attorneys were happy about it,” Brulte said, but he added “They didn’t start jumping up and down and kick the tables.”
At one point, just as Mandel appeared to be moving into a more aggressive mode, Brulte deflated her intensity, telling her he considered himself to be a servant of her will. This resulted in a momentary suspension of the courtroom decorum, as Brulte’s remark prompted an exclamation from Mandel that she would like her husband to make such a declaration. The double entendre-laced repartee that ensued involved Brulte offering to “spend just five minutes” in mediation with Mandel’s husband, and concluded with Brulte’s pronouncement that Mandel was “hot.”
Brulte also clarified testimony he had provided on three occasions in the past relating to trips he had made to China, in particular one in 2005 and another in 2006. Postmus accompanied him on both of those excursions, which were put on by the California State Friendship Committee. He had previously testified that Burum had been among those who made both of those trips. He was in error, Brulte said. He said Burum indeed went to China with the tour in 2005 but was not present in 2006. Brulte said he also encountered supervisor Josie Gonzales in China in 2006. He said she was not there as part of the tour he was on but was there on an economic development junket in her capacity as a county official.
To a question by Keller, Brulte denied ever attempting to lure Gonzales into a sexually compromising situation.
Tim Johnson had worked as an employee of the woman that served in the capacity of treasurer on Paul Biane’s maiden campaign for supervisor in 2002 and he as a volunteer on his campaign that same year. He then was on Biane’s supervisorial staff the entire eight years Biane served as supervisor, including finishing as Biane’s chief-of-staff in 2010. Johnson testified on Thursday.
Throughout much of his testimony, Johnson evinced a lack of memory with regard to certain events or issues, and in most cases that failure of memory appeared to weigh in Biane’s favor as Mandel reiterated questions which had been asked in grand jury sessions nearly five and seven years in the past. On some of the occasions where Johnson said he had no recollection, Mandel prompted him with transcripts of his grand jury testimony, inducing him to acknowledge details which in some instances cast Biane in a less than favorable light.
One such example occurred during Mandel’s questioning with regard to the formation of the San Bernardino Young Republicans political action committee, the recipient committee into which the $100,000 donation from the Colonies Partners to Biane was provided, and which the prosecution alleges was a bribe. Johnson said the formation of the committee was something he undertook at the suggestion of Matt Brown, who was then Biane’s chief-of-staff. To Mandel’s initial questions with regard to the committee, Johnson said that Biane had no participation in its formation. Mandel, however, provided campaign reporting documentation to show that the initial infusion of money into the committee’s account came from Biane.
In describing Measure P, a countywide initiative put on the ballot and sponsored by Biane in 2006 which called for raising the salary of each of the members of the board of supervisors from $99,000 per year to $151,000 per year, Johnson described it as a term limit measure, referencing a secondary provision in it that called for limiting members of the board to three four-year terms. Johnson referred to the measure as one that would result in “higher quality” governance, bring into government “fresh blood, generate new ideas and allow more qualified candidates to run.” It was not until he was cross-examined by Burum’s defense attorney, Steve Larson, that Johnson acknowledged that the measure would have boosted Biane’s pay by more than a third.
In several other respects, Johnson endeavored to paint a positive picture of his one-time boss, saying Biane “always worked in the best interest of the taxpayers” and adhered to “a guiding principle of conservatism.”
At one point, Mandel asked him if he still considered Biane a friend and Johnson said he did, adding that members of the Biane staff were akin to “a family.” To one of Larson’s questions, Johnson said he considered both Biane and Brown to be his mentors.
Mandel used projections of campaign reporting documents to reference a series of donations made to the San Bernardino Young Republicans, including ones for $10,000; $5,000; $2,500; $2,000; and $1,000, getting Johnson to say that there was nothing extraordinary about donations of that amount. When she referenced the $100,000 donation from the Colonies Partners and asked about its significance, Johnson said, “It was unusual for the committee, yes. The amount wasn’t consistent with any other contributions we received.”
Mandel led Johnson through his recollection of having gone to pick up that $100,000 check, which he said was not at Burum’s office but at the Coldwell Banker office of Burum’s partner, Dan Richards.
Larson elicited from Johnson that while working with Biane, he devoted himself to constituent services Monday through Thursday and then was detailed to political work on Fridays. Johnson also acknowledged that he spent a fair amount of time involved in political fundraising.
In his responses to Mandel’s questions, Johnson indicated that he was familiar with Jeff Burum and that he knew Burum had been one of Biane’s political backers. To a pointed question about Measure P, Johnson acknowledged that Burum had opposed it openly.
Larson asked Johnson, “Did Mr. Biane ever tell you he felt intimidated by the Colonies Partners or Mr. Burum?”
“I don’t recall that,” said Johnson.
George To Fill Two-Year Gap On Chino City Council
The Chino City council last week unanimously appointed Chaffey College board member and former Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce president Gary George to fill the position on the city council formerly occupied by Eunice Ulloa.
George was among 27 applicants for the position, 25 of whom were interviewed by the four members of the city council on January 10 and 11.
Put into place with the November 2016 election was half of the city’s electoral ward system. Last year, after the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund threatened the city with legal action if it did not adopt council wards, the council drew up and adopted a system by which the mayor will continue to be elected at large and the remaining members of the council will be chosen from four electoral wards in which roughly one-fourth of the city’s 77,983 residents live.
By either coincidence or calculation, each of the four wards created last year was host to one of the four incumbent council members – Glenn Duncan in the First District, Eunice Ulloa in the Second District, Earl Elrod in the Third District and Tom Haughey in the Fourth District. To further accommodate the incumbents, the city declared 2016 as the year in which the council members in the First District and the Fourth District would stand for election. It further so happened that Duncan and Haughey’s terms were up in 2016, meaning they were scheduled to stand for election again. They made a seamless transition back into office when, contrary to the intent of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund of attracting candidates and particularly Hispanic candidates into the various races for city council, no one came forward to challenge Duncan and Haughey. They were automatically returned to the council.
Also in 2014, the incumbent mayor, Dennis Yates, did not seek reelection. Councilwoman Eunice Ulloa, a resident of the just-created Second District, ran to replace him. She was opposed by Brandon Villalpando. Ulloa prevailed in the mayoral election, capturing 16,683 votes or 68.08 percent to Villalpando’s 7,823 votes of 31.92 percent. Ulloa’s ascendancy to mayor created a vacancy on the council, since she was last elected as a councilwoman in 2014, so two more years yet remain on her term.
The council decided to appoint Ulloa’s replacement rather than hold an election. The council then sought applicants to the post. Despite the consideration that no one had come forward to challenge incumbents Duncan and Haughey in November, a little more than a month later 27 Chino residents applied for appointment to the panel. Those 27 included Villapando, Arthur Burgner, Dorothy Pineda, Toni Holle, David Sakurai, James Espinosa, Brandon Blanchard, Tyler Ferrari, Deb Baker, Mark Hargrove, Joseph Simpson, Christopher Ramos, Sylvia Orozco, Michael Lovelace, Gina Lee, Georgene Fix, Joseph Louis Diaz Jr., Loren Struiksma, Paul Rodriguez, Griffen Halko, Dr. Taylor Bladh, Steve Lewis, Marjorie Scane, Arlene Guzman Todd, Mary Ann Ruiz, Jody Moore and Gary George.
George was the first of the applicants to be interviewed, telling the council the city needs to reinvigorate itself with new businesses. He offered a somewhat contradictory promise of bringing in commercial and business development to Chino, even as, he said, he was committed to keeping Chino’s rural character intact. He said the impact development will have on traffic should be considered as part of the formula for project approval.
A retired Verizon telecommunications director and the head of that company’s regional office of government and external affairs, George is a resident of District 3 and was also a member on the Chaffey College Board of Trustees from 2000-2015. He is widely credited with having convinced his colleagues on that panel to locate a satellite Chaffey College campus to the City of Chino. George was defeated for reelection to the board in 2015.
George was previously a member of the Chino Cultural Arts Foundation, the Inland Valley News Advisory Board, was chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the California Institute for Men and the California Institute for Women. He was a past president of both the Chino Valley Chamber and the Pomona Chamber of Commerce.
That he is a District 3 resident is of some political note. The position he holds – that corresponding to District Two councilman – will be up for election in 2018. Yet he is not eligible to run for that position. Nevertheless, he will have the opportunity to run for council that election cycle as the representative of District 3, which would set up a head to head contest between him and Elrod, should they both choose to run.
The council clearly considered George to be the most well-rounded and experienced candidate, and therefore most qualified. Whatever George’s qualities and attributes, humility is not among them. In accepting the appointment, George said, “I have already done a lot for the City of Chino. I want to do a lot more. In this position I think I can do that.”
44 Hesperia City Employees At $100K Or More Yearly: Union Calls Them Underpaid
HESPERIA–Municipal employees in this largely blue collar town of 90,173 residents are woefully underpaid, those employees’ union representatives have told the Hesperia City Council.
Asserting that employees in the City of Progress and members of their families exhibited the spirit of self sacrifice, Teamster Supervisor Steve Matthews last month said the 75 Hesperia city employees his union represents lost ground during the six year running economic downturn that gripped the nation, state and region beginning in 2007. By 2009, revenue into the city had diminished by 20 percent over what had been its high water mark just prior to the onset of the 2007 recession. A fiscal austerity effort ensued, involving the totality of city operations, and extending to a hiring freeze and no salary increases coupled with the downscaling of benefits provided to city employees. Unlike some other cities, however, Hesperia did not engage in layoffs.
In 2014, the economy began to rebound, but the city, which had seen a substantial portion of its economic reserves eaten into, stayed the course with regard to holding the line on raises, and lived up to a commitment to keep its budget balanced. The Teamsters, intent on proving the union’s worth to the city’s employees, began pressuring city management and the city council to institute wage and benefit increases.
In January 2016, the city council relented and agreed to provide city employees represented by the Teamsters with a so-called one step advancement effective July 1, 2016, which boosted their pay by 5 percent, based on merit on the anniversary date of each employee’s hiring. In addition, for the first full pay period of fiscal year 2016-17, which began on July 1, 2016, all salary ranges reflected a 2.5-percent base salary increase, plus an additional cost of living adjustment increase of one percent.
Matthews, however, told the city council at its December 6, 2016 meeting that was not enough. “In speaking with our members, they have stated clearly that economically they’ve gone backwards over the past 10 years,” Matthews said. “This is unacceptable,” he thundered. He demanded that the city council direct its negotiating team “to bargain in good faith” with the Teamsters. The city has no choice, he said other than “improving the condition of city employees.”
Forty-four Hesperia employees make more than $100,000 in total annual compensation.
City manager Nils Bentsen is getting $ 192,684.00 in salary, with $47,520 in benefits for $240,204 in total compensation per year.
Assistant city manager Brian D. Johnson makes $237,296 in total compensation annually.
Director of development services Scott Priester is receiving $173,267.00 annually.
Deputy finance director Anne M. Duke makes $173,777.00 per year.
Economic development director Steven Lantsberger receives $158,068 in total compensation each year.
Principal planner Dave Reno makes $156,304.00 per year.
Project construction manager David Burkett makes $152,521 per year.
City clerk Melinda L. Sayre receives $151,744 in total annual compensation.
Building inspection supervisor Michael D. Hearn makes $141,961 per year.
Building and safety manager Tracy Wrigley makes $141,961 per year.
Geographical information systems manager Eric Greene receives $139, 627.
Senior planner Daniel Alcayaga receives $136,455 per year.
Senior accountant Virginia Villasenor is paid $136,455 in salary and benefits per year.
Senior planner Stanley D. Liudahl receives $135,234.00 per year.
Senior financial analyst George R. Pirsko makes $130,457 per year.
Senior financial analyst Casey Williams Brooksher gets $130,457.00 per year.
Public works manager Mark Faherty makes $129,891per year.
Senior management analyst Juli Lynne Rull receives $128,309.00 per year.
Assistant to the city manager Rachel C Molina makes $124,444 per year.
Human resources manager Rita Perez gets $124,444 per year.
Assistant engineer Mark W. McKinley receives $117,212 per year.
Plans examiner Larry Bachmann gets $115,664.00 per year.
Plans examiner Keith Otjen takes in $115,193.00 per year.
Keith Cheong, a financial analyst, receives $114,391.55 per year.
Information systems specialist Rolando Quinonez makes $114,169 per year.
Julia A. Ryan, a management analyst, makes $114,169 per year.
Information services specialist officer Steven Vannorman is provided with salary and benefits of $114,169 per year.
Administrative analyst Andrea Lynn Wagner gets $114,169 per year.
Management analyst Lisa K. Lamere receives $114,169 per year.
Theresa Gayle Mauger, a senior code enforcement officer, makes $113,188.28 per year.
Code enforcement supervisor Antonio Genovesi makes $112,007 per year.
Public works supervisor Mark Ronald Faherty receives $111,224 per year.
Management analyst Holly E. Effiom makes $111,026 per year.
Roderic R. Yahnke, another management analyst, gets $111,026 per year.
Tina M. Souza, another management analyst, receives $111,026 per year.
Maintenance crew supervisor Jeffrey W Ozanne gets $110,634 per year.
Construction inspection supervisor Dwaine Ellis Latimer gets $107,440 per year.
Customer service supervisor Jill Wyman brings in $106,249 per year.
Facilities supervisor Scott B. Saude receives $105,420 per year.
Scott Smith, a maintenance crew supervisor, brings in $102,375 per year.
Joni L. Latimer, a maintenance crew supervisor, receives $105,475 per year.
Financial analyst Jose Mendoza makes $102,375 per year.
Senior code enforcement officer Ernesto Montes makes $100,539 per year.
Hesperia also employs 179 others who receive less than $100,000 in total compensation per year. The average salary of Hesperia city employees is $64,084.
Among Hesperia residents, the average household income is $59,690 per year. More than half of those households include two breadwinners. The average income among Hesperia residents is $37,306 per year. The benefits generally available to non-governmental employees are less substantial than those employed in the private sector. Thus, the average Hesperia resident makes, in salary and benefits, roughly 58.2 percent of the salary and benefits provided to the average Hesperia city employee.
Adelanto Chamber Of Commerce Will No Longer Meet In Adelanto
The Adelanto Chamber of Commerce will no longer hold its monthly meetings in Adelanto, but rather across the city limits in neighboring Victorville.
Until last month, the chamber held its regular confabs in the conference room at Stater Bros. Stadium. Going forward, the 82-member chamber will get together at the Old George School at 17738 Nevada Avenue on the former George Air Force Base.
The base property, much of which has been converted to Southern California Logistics Airport, is located within the City of Victorville.
Adelanto has long been under challenge, economically, socially and governmentally. Over the years, a significant number of Adelanto officials have had hard falls from political grace. Some have seen their political careers implode under criminal charges. There has been divisiveness and personal attacks. In 2014, the city council underwent a wholesale transformation when then-Mayor Cari Thomas was ousted in a four-way race by Rich Kerr, and incumbent councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo were replaced by John Woodard and Charley Glasper.
Since then, the city, which had declared a fiscal emergency in 2013, has utilized what the current council characterizes as creative and the city’s critics call desperate ploys to shore itself up financially. One of those was to permit massive-scale cultivation of marijuana in warehousing located in the city’s industrial park. Another was to disengage itself from the minor league baseball team, the California League’s High Desert Mavericks, which played its home games at the city’s major outdoor venue, State Bros. Stadium. City officials maintained that the arrangement with the Mavericks was one that was entailing maintenance and subsidization costs that had the city hemorrhaging red ink.
While virtually all of the businesses in the chamber of commerce are geographically wedded to Adelanto, some of the owners of those businesses do not see eye-to-eye, precisely, with the city’s political leadership. Some disapprove of the move to turn Adelanto into an agricultural center through which the city’s major produce is cannabis. Sending the Mavericks, who drew crowds from elsewhere in the Victor Valley to the city, packing has displeased other businesses, particularly those that catered to the baseball fans during their presence in the city. Others are less than enthusiastic about the city having embraced four separate prisons in the city, qualifying incarceration as the city’s second ranking industry, such that some eight percent of the city’s population consists of convicted felons, which some say tarnishes the city’s image.
The chamber’s contract with Stater Bros. Stadium for the space it used there elapsed as of December 31. Last summer, former mayor Cari Thomas, who is now the chamber president, tried to find terms upon which the chamber might stay in place. When that did not take immediate hold, she sought to shepherd the chamber to a different meeting and operational venue.
The San Bernardino County Fair Board had moved into the position of marketing and leasing available space at the stadium. But confusion between the fair board and City Hall delayed the timetable for cementing a lease going forward. Faced with having to find a definite meeting place, Thomas jumped at the chance to move the chamber into Old George School, digs which represented a lower cost without the hassle of having to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the fair board.
Some see in the move a slap at the city, brought on, perhaps, by Thomas’s political severance two years ago.
City officials now wistfully regret having not facilitated the chamber staying in place at the stadium. There have been suggestions the chamber will return, but that homecoming will not be until June or later.
Warren Recall Proponents Offer Rationales For Effort To Remove Fontana Mayor
By Carlos Avalos
On January 19th the Press Enterprise released an opinion peace stating that “the attempted recall of Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren was a waste of effort.” It is the Press Enterprise Editorial Board’s view and position that recalls are for getting rid of office holders who have been guilty of malfeasance in office. Malfeasance can be defined as wrongdoing equating to illegal or dishonest behavior. The Press Enterprise then went on to say that political differences should not be settled with a recall attempt but with an election. The Sentinel eagerly concurs. The Sentinel reached out to the Inland Empire First PAC, the people pushing the recall effort. They told the Sentinel the recall effort has nothing to do with political differences. The people behind the recall effort stated that it has to do with what is right and wrong, and this recall effort has bipartisan support throughout the city of Fontana and neighboring cities. Democrats and Republicans do not agree on much these days, be they local, state, or national issues. The same applies in the city of Fontana. But one thing the Republicans and Democrats can agree on in Fontana is that “Warehouse Warren” needs to go. That name was given to Warren by a political action committee that has targeted her for removal from office.
The Press Enterprise has discounted the primary reasons given by the Inland Empire First PAC to justify Mayor Warren’s recall. Let’s try an analysis. First there is the Fontana mayor receiving more than $100,000 in political contributions by special interest groups. Elizabeth Morales, a recall supporter and Fontana activist, told the Sentinel “when a mayor receives money or kickbacks from a person or organization for being friendly to that person or organization’s desired cause and the needs of the city that person represents are put on the back burner, in my mind that constitutes malfeasance.” With Fontana’s mayor, this consists of voting in favor of projects and entities that have contributed to her political piggy bank such as the Fontana Water Company, Burrtec, Trammel Crowe, and Imtex according to the political action committee (PAC).
In regards to the lopsided funding of the helicopter program that the Press Enterprise mentioned as a reason not important enough to recall the mayor, the following is known: With Acquanetta Warren’s backing providing support for the program to Rialto, Colton and Redlands, those cities are not paying their fair share in regards to the program and the cost was skyrocketing, creating a disproportionate share of the burden borne on the backs of the taxpayers in Fontana. According to sources in and outside of the Fontana Police Department, Rodney Jones, the Chief of police at the time the helicopter program was implemented, was caught misappropriating the helicopter funds. Edward Sena a Fontana resident and supporter of the recall told the Sentinel “Fontana residents are already taxed enough, and they were sold on the idea that this program was beneficial to the city for safety and protection, which it might have been originally, but that does not take away from the fact that questionable acts on behalf of the mayor were taking place with the funds of the program. This was either by her being directly involved or a result of her negligence.”
On January 24th Fontana held its regularly scheduled city council meeting. Karen Coleman, a long time resident of Fontana and member of the Fontana Women’s Club, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. She directly addressed Acquanetta Warren. Coleman and the Fontana Women’s Club were concerned about some shady practices by the mayor and people in the organization. Mrs. Coleman described how the women’s club asked for an audit of a $20,000 deal between the city and the women’s club. Specifically, they wanted to know how the first ten thousand dollars was spent. Lena Cothran, Lita Ashton, Becky Peck, Terrie Schneider, Heather Goulay, Nyoka Edy and Connie Avila complained to the city council that they could not pay their utility bills. Ken Hunt, Fontana’s city manager, was notified and the city and the women’s club entered into a $20,000 contract. The women’s club was told that club does not allocate funds, therefore the women’s club would not be provided with the information they requested. Coleman and a few other club members personally went through all of the financial records of the women’s club given to them by Terrie Schneider, the president of the women’s club, locating what appear to them to be some irregularities. There were 42 checks that were never sent to the women’s club but went through the bank.
This represented disbursement of over ten thousand dollars, and there was no copy of the checks. No 1090 forms were ever used. Coleman and members of the women’s club went through every single check and put them in categories as to who received the checks. This might be an honest mistake or coincidence that much of the women’s club money goes back into the pockets of certain members of the women’s club board or their families. Or some people might look at this as misappropriation of funds.
Dave Ashton, husband of board member Lita Ashton, received checks for $1,650. State Farm Insurance Agency owner Phil Cothran, a friend and political associate of Acquanetta Warren, is the husband of women’s club board member Lena Cothran. He received $4,057.03. Phil Cothran also received a finder’s fee check of $400.
Phil Cothran, Jr. received a finder’s fee check for $300. Coleman and members of the women’s club kept coming across checks payable to a mysterious person or entity named AMC. They could not figure out who or what AMC was. They finally found who AMC was and they found it under Phil Cothran’s 700 form. AMC was a management company listed under Phil Cothran’s name. In one day in February 2016 AMC was paid three checks of $1,100, and received a total of $3,900. Another mystery the Fontana women’s club came across was a women names Sharri Butler. She kept receiving checks but no one knew or had heard of her or knew who she was. Sherry Butler is the stepdaughter of Fontana women’s board member Lita Ashton. She received $2,923. A total of $14,220.30 was distributed with no itemization or description of the charges.
The women’s club was told that they did not have enough money to pay their utility bills but surprisingly there were checks paid in the form of donations on behalf of the women’s club. A reasonable question to ask is ‘Why would the women’s club be donating money if they could not take care of their own finances?’
Lena and Phil Cothran donated to the Miss Fontana program $250, and they donated $750 to the Boys and Girls Club, which is run by the president of the women’s club, Terrie Schneider. At the January 24 city council meeting, Karen Coleman told the council directly that Acquanetta Warren came to her house when she started asking questions about the women’s club, and that she also tried to intimidate her and try to make her stop asking questions. Karen Coleman went on to say that she even received a letter from an attorney stating that she could be subject to disciplinary actions if she did not stop talking about and inquiring into the women’s club’s finances. Coleman said she was “going to find the connection between the mayor and this shady deal.”
The Inland Empire First PAC also stated that reckless warehouse development is one of the reasons why its members want Acquanetta Warren to be recalled. The Press Enterprise believes this not to be an issue worthy of a recall. A quick drive on the north end and south end of Fontana will show that warehouses are popping up everywhere. One might build a case that this is a good thing, as more warehouses equal more jobs, more jobs equal people with more money, people with more money living and working in Fontana equals a better economy. Yet even this ideal situation has its drawbacks. More warehouses equals more truckers driving in the city, which equals more pollution, and the number of warehouses alone emits significant amounts of pollution to the city and neighboring cities and San Bernardino County. It is no secret that San Bernardino County has some of the worst pollution in the U.S, and that children born in the county are born at a disadvantage when it comes to their lung capacity. Allen Hernandez environmental activist, organizing manager for the Fontana Sierra Club, and recall supporter told the Sentinel, “time and time again public officials vote in the interests of their own pocket instead of the environment. In the case of Warehouse Warren, she is more concerned about the kickbacks from land developers than having clean air for her constituents.” Additionally, there are questions about the quality and pay level jobs in warehouses provide. The Inland Empire First PAC stated that many of these warehouses are vacant, dormant or otherwise have no one working in them.
According to a report recently produced by the city, only 10 percent of workers who live in Fontana have places of employment that are in Fontana.
Nine percent of Fontana workers travel to nearby Ontario for their jobs, but many more have to drive much longer distances.
Eight percent must go to Los Angeles to work, and the remaining 73 percent trek to other cities.
The Sentinel asked the Inland Empire First PAC members in the community about the Press Enterprise’s claim that this recall was in fact a payback for a 2013 recall effort that removed Leticia Garcia and Sophia Green from their positions as Fontana Unified School District board members. The Sentinel reached out to both women for comment but was only able to reach Leticia Garcia. Leticia Garcia conveyed to the Sentinel that the Fontana mayor had no issue with her until she questioned spending by the after school program that mayor Warren was a champion of. Mrs. Garcia told the Sentinel that she found thousands of dollars spent at the 99 Cent Store on trinkets and items that were irrelevant to the program. Mrs. Garcia spoke up about the wasteful spending and was then targeted by Mayor Warren, Garcia said.
The Inland Empire First PAC offered the Sentinel a statement that this is a prime example of the mayor trying to control the school board. If a person or group does not go along with Mayor Warren he, she or they are targeted, bullied, or perceived as a threat to Fontana, they say. The Sentinel also asked the PAC behind the recall effort about the Press Enterprise’s suggestion that recall proponents should just wait until next year when there will be another election, and that they should focus their efforts on getting a candidate to challenge Acquanetta Warren. The PAC conveyed to the Sentinel that the reasons given for the recall effort are just the tip of the iceberg and what can be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, and another minute cannot be wasted with her in office. The Sentinel then asked the PAC about the overall claim from the Press Enterprise about the recall effort being wasteful and that there has been no malfeasance on behalf of Mrs. Warren. I quote the PAC’s official response: “The Press Enterprise used the word malfeasance. We do not think the Press Enterprise knows what this word means, and her acts are the definition of malfeasance.”
On Thursday January 26th Acquanetta Warren gave her state of the city address, at the Jessie Turner Center in Fontana. It should be noted that there were protestors loud and vocal about the issues involved in the recall effort, as well as others. The recall effort has an uphill battle to fight to get the signatures to put the recall on the November ballot, but it also appears that trouble might be brewing in Fontana for its mayor.
The Ontario-San Antonio Heights Railway
The Ontario-San Antonio Heights Line originally existed as a mule-pulled trolley that ran north and south within the Euclid Avenue median from State Street in Ontario to San Antonio Heights. A mule would pull the car the nearly five-mile distance up the incline, which represented an elevation gain of roughly 1,200 feet. On the return southward, the motive power would be placed aboard a connecting trailer and would coast down with the car. Two mules, Sanky and Moody, did the work on alternate days from the inception of the Ontario & San Antonio Heights Railway Company 1887 until the line was electrified in 1895. Thereafter, the mules were acquired by a rancher. A legend, possibly apocryphal is that the beloved beasts did fine uphill ploughing, but refused to work downhill.
Eriogonum ovalifolium var. vineum, a dicot, is a low, densely-matted perennial herb of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae). It occurs within openings of pinyon woodland, pinyon-juniper woodland, Joshua tree woodland, and blackbush scrub communities between 4,600 and 7,900 feet in elevation on limestone or other carbonate substrates in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The flowers are whitish-cream, darkening to a reddish or purple color with age, and are borne on flowering stalks reaching four inches in height. The leaves are 0.3 to 0.6 inches long, round to ovate, and white-woolly on both surfaces. The diameter of mats is typically 6 to 10 inches, but they may reach up to 20 inches.
Cushenbury buckwheat occurs with an approximately 25-mile-long “belt ” of carbonate soils that occur along the northern edge of the San Bernardino Mountains from the White Knob area east to Rattlesnake Canyon, north and east of Big Bear Lake. Cushenbury buckwheat occurs in Arctic and Cushenbury canyons, Terrace and Jacoby springs, along Nelson Ridge, and near Onyx Peak. There is currently about 1,213 acres (491 hectares) of occupied habitat for this species.
Close to 75 percent of the Cushenbury buckwheat plants known to exist occupy habitat under claim for mining, or in private ownership and subject to mining, or on land that is threatened by other disturbances.
Because it exists in such a long but narrow swathe of land in the mountains, it is also threatened by off-highway vehicle use, a hydroelectric project, and a 115-kilovolt powerline proposed for construction through Cushenbury Canyon, dispersed target shooting, dispersed camping areas, fuelwood collection, and fire suppression activities and artificial lighting. These activities can result in trampling of Cushenbury buckwheat and impact its habitat through ground disturbance or dust creation. Artificial lighting may affect Cushenbury buckwheat’s growing conditions by altering the photoperiod response or the behavior of pollinators or seed dispersers.
Three other varieties of Eriogonum ovalifolium are distinguished from Eriogonum ovalifolium var. vineum on the basis of floral and leaf characteristics, but none occur in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Botanists believe that the Eriogonum ovalifolium var. vineum is in a middle range in its progression toward extinction in that the subspecies faces a high degree of threat but also a high potential for recovery. Its continued existence conflicts with construction or other development projects or other forms of economic activity. It is also salvageable as a species because human intercession in keeping it alive in the past has worked. Two botanists, O. Mistretta and and S.D. White introduced Cushenbury buckwheat onto a disturbed site in 1991 and 1992 and irrigated the plants. They found that about 77 percent of the individuals survived until 1998 and estimated the average half-life of the plant to be 20 years. Cushenbury buckwheat successfully reproduced and progeny were found within 6.6 feet of the planting.
Shortly after it was listed as endangered, a 1994 survey of the area in which it grows found a total of some 13,000 individual Cushenbury buckwheat plants. Of those, roughly a fourth of them – something like 3,250 – were in closely located groupings of 1,000 plants or more. In total, there were fewer than 20 places where groupings of any number of Cushenbury buckwheat occurred at all. These were scattered throughout the eastern half of the carbonate belt. The San Bernardino National Forest has since it was listed as endangered mapped 239 site-specific occurrences of this species. However, what constitutes an “occurrence” has been haphazardly defined over the various surveys, making it is difficult to specify the change in the abundance of Cushenbury buckwheat since listing. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the increase in the effort to survey for the plant since its listing has resulted in an increase in the number of occurrences detected and may not actually mean that there has been an actual increase in abundance.