Measure K Campaign Musters Unexpected Political Bedfellows and Opponents

Victorville, which has grown to become the fifth most populous of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated municipalities, finds itself in the midst of a curious political maelstrom this off-election year.
While Victorville’s municipal elections in which city council members are chosen are normally held in even numbered years and correspond with the general elections in which the gubernatorial and presidential elections take place, a political action committee earlier this year qualified a citywide initiative for the ballot, Measure K. Measure K, if passed, would levy a half cent sales tax within the city, the revenue from which, its language says, would be earmarked for public safety programs.
That it is going before voters in an odd-numbered off-election cycle year is not the only remarkable thing about Measure K. One group that would logically seem to be a natural supporter of the measure, the union representing the county’s firefighters, is not only opposed to Measure K, but is spearheading the effort to keep it from passing.
Measure K is sponsored by the Quality of Life Coalition, a political action committee that counts among its members prime movers in the development industry and Michael W. McKinney, an Irvine-based political consultant and the proprietor of MICA PR and Capitol Core Group, Inc. McKinney has run several successful and a few failed campaigns in San Bernardino and Orange Counties on behalf of federal, state and local candidates as well as initiatives, and recall campaigns to remove targeted office holders. McKinney was at one point, through his company MICA PR, the chief of staff to San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis.
The Quality of Life Coalition maintains that Measure K, if passed, will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.5 million yearly, which would come into Victorville’s municipal coffers with the proviso that the money can be spent only on public safety issues, meaning the fire department, the city’s paramedic program and law enforcement. At present, Victorville contracts with both the county fire department and the county sheriff’s department for fire safety and police services. As such, Measure K’s tax override would enhance services and safety in Victorville, its proponents have asserted, and that convinced the members of the Victorville City Council to endorse it.
Nevertheless, Measure K faces an uphill climb. It is one of the peculiarities of the California election code that simple tax measures which provide money to a governmental entity so its officials can do with that money as they wish and with no direction on exactly how that money is to be spent need garner only a simple majority of those to be taxed to pass. A taxing measure that is earmarked for a specific purpose, however, in which the governmental entity that receives the revenue is constrained from using the money it for any other purpose than that designated by the voters can be put in effect only if it passes with a two-thirds majority vote.
Thus Measure K must garner at least 66.667 percent of the vote on November 7 to pass. Added to that is the opposition of the Professional Firefighters Union Local 935, which represents the county’s firefighters.
While nine of the county’s cities – Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Colton, Loma Linda, Big Bear, Barstow and Apple Valley – have their own municipal or community fire departments and Chino and Chino Hills are served by their joint Chino Valley Fire Department, 13 of the county’s cities obtain their fire protection service from the county. Some have arranged to get that service under a contract. More recently there has been a trend toward annexing the entirety of a city into a county fire service zone. Such annexations bring with them a tax assessment – usually in the range of $135 to $155 annually on every parcel within those cities. Within the last three years, four county cities – San Bernardino, Needles, Twentynine Palms and Upland – have shed their local fire departments and been placed – through an application by those cities’ city councils with the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission – into such an assessment zone. In all of those cases, there was significant citizen discontent at the changeover.
At present, the City of Victorville contracts with the county for the service provided by the county fire department outside the regime of a fire safety service assessment zone.
The Measure K proposal has made for some curious political bedfellows. A major backer of Measure K in the form of being a primary financial source to the Quality of Life Coalition is the Building Industry Association. Indeed, many consider the Quality of Life Coalition to be a thinly disguised political arm of the Building Industry Association.
In 2014, Victorville Councilman Jim Kennedy, who was first elected to the council in 2010 and therefore had to stand for reelection that year, was blindsided by a blitz of political “hit pieces,” i.e., mailers and handbills that landed in voters’ mailboxes in the closing two weeks of the campaign and which excoriated him in a clear attempt to ruin his reelection chances. One of those strongly implied that Kennedy was on the verge of being indicted by a federal grand jury or being charged by the U.S. Attorney for his participation in graft and corruption. Under Kennedy’s watch, the hit piece said, the City of Victorville had squandered, lost or otherwise misappropriated $250 million, resulting in an “F.B.I. Probe.” Three years later, Kennedy has yet to be charged. A scrupulous examination of the funding trail on the mailers demonstrated that it was the Building Industry Association – using the Quality of Life Coalition – behind the hit pieces. Kennedy pretty much suffered the political broadside in silence, and managed to hang on in the 2014 campaign and get reelected despite the below-the-belt punches he sustained at the hands of the Building Industry Association and the Quality of Life Coalition. Jim Cox, however, who was the longest serving city manager in Victorville history before he ran successfully for city council in 2012 and thereupon became Kennedy’s closest ally on the council, did not remain supine in the face of the attacks on Kennedy. Cox took the Quality of Life Coalition, the Building Industry Association and Building Industry Association President Carlos Rodriguez to task for what they did. “I’ve been involved in government for over 40 years,” Cox said at the time. “These are the dirtiest political tactics I’ve ever seen.” He said what the Building Industry Association and Rodriguez had done went beyond maligning Kennedy and was tearing down the city. “The FBI is not investigating the city. Our budget is balanced,” he insisted.
Three years later, Kennedy and Cox find themselves in league with the Building Industry and Rodriquez. Kennedy said the council and city staff are in fact pinning their hopes on the Quality of Life Coalition making Measure K succeed. He suggested that if the measure doesn’t pass, it is practically inevitable that the City of Victorville will annex into county fire’s Service Zone FP-5 as did San Bernardino, Needles, Twentynine Palms and Upland, and that each of owners the city’s 37,884 parcels will be levied with a $153 annual assessment on top of the property tax they are already paying.
Professional Firefighters Union Local 935 is opposed to Measure K, its officials say, because despite the consideration that its revenues will be earmarked for “public safety,” the language in the measure is not specific about how that money will be apportioned between law enforcement and fire service, and the lion’s share of that money will go to bumping up the number of sheriff’s deputies assigned to the city. Moreover, they say, Measure K’s passage is likely to embolden city leaders, who have already made overtures about potentially contracting with other entities such as the Apple Valley Fire Protection District or the California Division of Forestry’s firefighting arm, known as CALFIRE, to consider closing out the city’s relationship with the county fire department entirely and forming a municipal fire department of its own.
The Quality of Life Coalition maintains that for those who count – Victorville’s residents – Measure K, which will help defray the cost of fire service through a modest half cent sales tax that will be applicable not just to city residents but to the more than two million travelers through Victorville on their way to Las Vegas and elsewhere every year who stop there to shop or dine. The sales tax, Measure K’s proponents say, will be far less burdensome on Victorville residents than the fire service assessment.
Joining the opposition to Measure K is the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association. One issue opponents of Measure K have raised is that no automatic sunset date was included in the measure.
-Mark Gutglueck

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