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Monthly Archives: February 2018
San Bernardino City Council Leaves Door Open For Vice Kingpin Welty
By Mark Gutglueck
After appearing to be on the brink of prohibiting vice kingpin Randy Welty from operating marijuana sales businesses in their city of 215,000, San Bernardino municipal officials this week stopped short of doing so, leaving the door open for him to ply his trade in what is likely to prove the most profitable cannabis-sales venue in San Bernardino County.
For more than two decades, San Bernardino has waged a series of bruising battles with Welty, in which the mercurial and wealthy Vietnam War veteran was able to use his financial wherewithal and ruthless political tactics to counter the heavy-handed authority governmental entities are accustomed to applying in their administrative and legal contests with citizens living, or entrepreneurs operating, within their jurisdictions. In virtually all of those clashes Welty prevailed, and whatever victories the city laid claim to proved temporary and pyrrhic.
Welty, who at present owns or has a controlling interest in eleven topless or topless/bottomless/fully nude or partially nude theaters or bars, seven adult bookstores and 56 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California along with at least seven race horses, was the prime mover behind the opening of the Flesh Club in San Bernardino’s prime commercial and entertainment district on Hospitality Lane in 1995, though the “totally nude” female dancers review venue was ostensibly owned and operated by his son. The city, under the leadership of three separate mayors – Tom Minor, Judith Valles and Patrick Morris – and then-city attorney James Penman sought, ultimately unsuccessfully, to close the Flesh Club down.
The city utilized both legitimate and some ethically questionable tactics in attempting to achieve that end. Those included sending undercover police officers into the place, where they used hidden cameras to film the on-stage antics of the dancers, which in some cases came close to being actual or simulated sex acts. The city retained a private eye who had previously had a career as a porn star, and she managed to get hired on at the Flesh Club as a stripper, from which vantage she was to provide her client with a window on the internal goings-on at the wide open nightspot. Less than a week into the assignment, she reported that the club was indeed “a house of prostitution.” In a court proceeding, the city called as a witness a disgruntled former Flesh Club dancer, who testified that during her run there she was a hooker who was paid $1,000 a day for providing sex to customers. City officials were particularly interested in obtaining damning information about what occurred within the establishment’s “VIP Room,” where customers willing to throw around conspicuous amounts of cash were granted entre. The city hired a former Riverside County sheriff’s deputy then working as a private investigator, Duane Minard, to see if he could get into the inner sanctum. And indeed, by offering a stripper $120 for a “private dance,” Minard was allowed in. The $120 was a mere opener, however, and though Minard was eventually given the full treatment, to get to that level he had to leave the VIP room and the club, go out to the parking lot and retrieve from his car another $680, which he brought back into the VIP Room, whereupon he was permitted to score a touchdown.
Armed with that evidence, the city and Penman pushed to have the Flesh Club closed. But Welty and his staff were no less, and even more, capable of using bare-knuckle tactics. Several girls, young and comely ones, were given the assignment of making friends with city officials, primarily the decision makers, including elected leaders, high-ranking staff and senior police officers. Though precise details are not for publication, through friendly persuasion, or outright blackmail, city officials were prevailed upon to let the matter lapse, and the Flesh Club persisted as a dot upon the San Bernardino landscape.
Moreover, Welty employed one of the best attorneys in the business, famed civil liberties litigator Roger Jon Diamond, who took the opportunity to teach his adversaries in the city attorney’s office a thing or two about the law. Diamond has no hesitation whatsoever to take on, indeed thrives on, cutting edge freedom of speech and freedom of expression issues where public and social sensibility is being tested. Time after time, public entities, led by elected officials seeking to hold the line on what they consider to be issues of common decency and social conservatism, and encouraged by a vocal element of their constituencies, overstep their authority in preventing Diamond’s clients from engaging in constitutionally protected activity, whereupon Diamond will give the lawyers representing the government a sound drubbing at the trial court or appellate court levels. In conjunction with Welty, Diamond has consistently turned these efforts into lucrative enterprises. The formula Welty follows is to acquire, by taking over or buying, what is a marginal or maybe even failing night spot – either a bar, pool hall, night club, comedy club or sports bar. Welty will initially, sources say, try, or at least appear to try, to have the night spot make a go of it. At some point, he will, perhaps with or perhaps without local government approval, transition the business into one with a sexual theme – usually one featuring some order of nude female dancing. He will keep the business operating at what ostensibly is a profit. When the city or county moves to shutter the business, Welty will then embroil the government in costly litigation pertaining to contractual, First Amendment and zoning issues, almost invariably prevailing and achieving a settlement which more often than not includes the city paying Welty handsomely – typically in excess of $1 million – for lost profits.
After Welty opened the Flesh Club in San Bernardino, the city predictably moved to close the enterprise, at which point Welty brought in Diamond to bloody the city’s and then-city attorney James Penman’s noses. The Flesh Club remained shuttered for four years while Welty pursued a $2.6 million suit challenging the city code and the specific ordinance cited in the Flesh Club’s closure. Welty obtained a court order calling for the city to allow the club to reopen along with a $1.4 million judgment to recover lost income suffered during the closure.
Having already taken San Bernardino, its officials and its taxpayers for a lucrative ride once over nude dancing, Welty two years ago moved to capitalize on the juggernaut city officials had created by their move in 2007 banning medical marijuana dispensaries. The overriding majority of the city council, philosophically opposed to the concept of marijuana use and availability liberalization for both medical and recreational purposes, consistently turned back or thwarted calls by availability advocates to permit dispensaries to function legally within the city. In defiance, a number of entrepreneurs established clinics in the city, most often doing so on the sly by registering the enterprises and applying and receiving business licenses that wove code names and terms into the business titles such as remedy or remedies, herbal, botanical or botanicals, green, holistic or holistics.
Nevertheless, a controlling majority of San Bernardino’s political establishment, consisting of John Valdivia, Henry Nickel, Jim Mulvihill, Fred Shorett and Mayor Carey Davis, were unwilling to embrace cannabis liberalization. All five had assumed that “potheads” lacked the discipline and cohesiveness to mount any kind of political effort, and were stunned to learn in 2016 that the cannabis availability advocates within the city had managed the daunting task of gathering sufficient signatures to put an initiative on the ballot calling for allowing dispensaries to operate in the city. Welty took the opportunity to apply money of his own to get a more self-serving initiative on the ballot, one that would virtually assure he would be one of the city’s marijuana entrepreneurs. Outmaneuvered by the stoners for whom its members had such disdain, the council sought to catch up, putting its own commercial marijuana initiative on the ballot, one that had far greater restrictions and regulations built into it than either of the other measures. When the three competing measures came before the city’s voters in November 2016, the city’s commercial cannabis-activity-permitting-and-regulating proposal, Measure P, went down to defeat, with 23,106 votes or 48.45 percent in favor and 24,583 votes or 51.55 percent in opposition. Besting Measure P was the proposal put forth by the city’s homegrown marijuana aficionados, Measure N, which garnered 24,048 votes or 51.1 percent, with 23,015 or 48.9 percent in opposition. Despite that showing, Measure N did not prevail, as the Welty-sponsored Measure O topped it, with 26,037 votes or 55.12 percent and 21,196 or 44.88 percent in opposition.
In the aftermath of Measure O’s passage, city officials said they would move expeditiously to actuate it, but then delayed, saying they needed time to redraft elements of the city code to make it compatible with Measure O. That had not been completed when in February 2017 the city was hit with two lawsuits challenging Measure O’s provisions legally and procedurally. One of those lawsuits was filed by former Adelanto City Manager James DeAguilera on behalf of the group that had sponsored the competing Measure N dispensary permitting initiative. City Attorney Gary Saenz, citing that litigation, suspended the full implementation of Measure O.
On March 9, 2017, by which point the city had not yet put any of the elements of the protocol for the marijuana dispensary permitting process provided for in Measure O into place, Diamond, on behalf of Welty, filed suit against the city. Three months passed before the city’s community development department provided applications for dispensary operations to interested parties. On August 24, the city issued a permit for its first legal marijuana dispensary operation to an entity functioning out of the address at 100 W. Hospitality Lane. 100 W. Hospitality Lane is the address of the Flesh Showgirls, the current reincarnation of the Flesh Club. The de facto owner of Flesh Showgirls is Randy Welty.
As is typical of so many of Welty’s operations, the permit for the dispensary is not in Welty’s name but rather in that of Quiang Ye, who has been identified as the general manager of Flesh Showgirls.
Two months ago, in December, Judge David Cohn, ruled that Measure O imposed on the city so-called “spot zoning,” which unfairly delineates certain properties as eligible for commercially intensive activity and advantages the owners of those properties to the detriment of surrounding or nearby property owners, while simultaneously and not coincidentally creating a virtual marijuana sales monopoly for the sponsor of Measure O, i.e., Welty.
The city utilized Judge Cohn’s ruling disqualifying Welty’s Measure O to revisit the entire concept of how marijuana availability is to be regulated in the city. Two weeks ago, on February 7 the council gave approval and first reading to a cannabis regulation ordinance. The ordinance set a ratio of one cannabis-oriented business per 12,500 residents, meaning 17 marijuana-related concerns are to be licensed in the city of 215,000. The ordinance required businesses to be at least 600 feet away from schools and commercial daycare and youth centers; at least 300 feet away from residentially zoned property or any existing residential units, even if those units are not on property that is residentially zoned and left for future determination the distance requirement from other public and private facilities, including government offices, churches, bars, fraternal meeting places and libraries. The ordinance declared cannabis-based businesses are off-limits to those under the age of 21 and disallowed any conspicuous advertisement of the businesses, such that “Business identification signage shall be limited to that needed for identification only and shall not contain any logos” or reference to marijuana. The ordinance called for security measures at the businesses, including video cameras trained on the exits, entrances and the internal areas where customers are present, as well as doors subject to electronic control and locking. The ordinance mandated that each business employ a uniformed and licensed security guard during operating hours.
The ordinance passed on February 7, and consistent with state law permitted those 21 years of age or older to grow up to six marijuana plants at his or her domicile with the proviso that the plants cannot be in common public view. It prohibited consumption, i.e., smoking, of the weed in public places, public buildings and places generally open to attendance by the public or within 50 feet of the entrances to public places or buildings.
Brought home during the February 7 public hearing relating to the ordinance was the opportunity within the ordinance as then drafted for it to be extended to exclude Welty from operating within the city. One section of the ordinance accepted by the city council that night pertained to persons to be excluded from receiving a commercial license to sell or distribute marijuana or be in any way involved in the cannabis industry within the city. As drafted, that section excluded those who had previously violated the city’s ban on operating a cannabis-related business in the city. Though Welty was not alleged to have violated San Bernardino’s marijuana ban, he had been not only accused of but demonstrated to have done just that elsewhere. Most recently, in November 2017, Welty had come to an agreement with the City of Upland with regard to closing down an illicit marijuana dispensary he operated, known as Captain Jack’s, located at 2085 Foothill Boulevard, next to his Tropical Lei strip club. For going on seven years Welty had operated Captain Jack’s in defiance of Upland’s city codes, pulling down an estimate $3 million in gross revenue there. Captain Jack’s had been twice cited by the City of Upland as an illegal operation, once on December 18, 2014, and again on March 28, 2017. In the document memorializing the deal brokered between Welty and the City of Upland, it was stated, “For some years, the property has been used for the purpose of marijuana related use and activity. Throughout this time, Waldon R. Welty, an individual, has held himself out as an authorized agent of the marijuana collective operating at 2085 Foothill, LLC.” The document, dated November 8, 2017 and signed by Welty, also states, “The agreement between the City of Upland and Waldon R. Welty requires that the current business at 2085 W. Foothill Boulevard cease operations as of January 1, 2018 and a settlement of $100,000 be paid to the city.” Furthermore, according to the settlement agreement, “Welty shall not conduct or otherwise permit any marijuana related use and activity at any location within the city, including but not limited to the property.”
On February 7, the San Bernardino City Council had passed the ordinance as previously drafted by giving it what is referred to, in parliamentary terms, as a first reading. Two such readings are required to finalize passage. Normally, one month after passage by a second reading an ordinance goes into effect. On February 7 it was expected that the ordinance would come back for its second reading and passage this week, on Wednesday February 21, and would thus become effective as of March 21. In the interim between February 8 and February 21, however, staff undertook to make changes to the ordinance, such that when it was again presented to the city council on Wednesday, it was not up for a second reading but rather the first reading of the redrafted ordinance. It was widely anticipated that the version of the ordinance to be reconsidered by the council would involve some changes in the language relating to the section touching on individuals to be prohibited from running a marijuana-related business in the city that would extend to those who had previously violated the law with regard to illicit commercial marijuana operations in general rather than simply those who had violated the City of San Bernardino’s ban. On February 21, however, the ordinance reviewed by the city council carried this language under Section 5.10.100: “Persons prohibited from holding a commercial cannabis business permit or being employed by a commercial cannabis business.
(a) Any person for which any of the following actions or notices have been issued in non-compliance shall be prohibited from holding a cannabis commercial business permit or being employed by a commercial cannabis business in the City of San Bernardino.
(1) The applicant, permittee, or employee has been denied a license or has had a license suspended or revoked by any city, county, city and county or any state cannabis licensing authority;
(2) The applicant, permittee, or employee was either convicted, pled guilty or nolo contendere, or was found by the city’s hearing officer pursuant to Chapters 9.92 or 9.93 of conducting commercial cannabis activity in non-compliance with Title 19 or other City of San Bernardino ordinances, codes and requirements in which they failed to discontinue operating in a timely manner;
(3) Evidence that the applicant, permittee, or employee was in non-compliance of properly paying federal, state or local taxes and/or fees when notified by the appropriate agencies;
(4) The applicant, permittee, employee, or the owner of the property upon which the proposed commercial cannabis activity is to occur, have conducted commercial cannabis activity in the City of San Bernardino in violation of local and state law or failed to report income from such activities to the federal, state, or local government in violation of federal, state, or local law.”
It thus appears Welty will be at liberty to own or operate a dispensary or several dispensaries in San Bernardino. The council’s timidity on that issue immediately fueled suggestions that Welty had in some fashion worked his intimidation/blackmail magic on five of the six male members of the council – Mayor Carey Davis and councilmen John Valdivia, Jim Mulvihill, Benito Barrios, and Fred Shorett. Shorett, formerly a vocal opponent of marijuana liberalization in San Bernardino, was notably absent from the February 7 and February 21 council meetings. Barrios is the lone member of the council who has consistently supported allowing the licensing and permitting of marijuana sales in the city.
Despite requests by would-be cannabis business operators that permit durations be increased to as long as three years, the city council left intact that element of the ordinance passed on February 7 that makes marijuana-related business permits valid for one year, and leaves discretion to the city to extend the permit further based upon the permittee’s compliance with city regulations. The ordinance does not specify what the dollar amount of a permit fee is to be.
The ordinance gives the city manager wide latitude in applying and altering the city’s policy, although the council did stipulate that changes in the rules and regulations be brought to the council for final approval.
The version approved this week carries with it a requirement that those cultivating marijuana for personal use on their own premises register their horticultural activity at a city website. The council also doubled the required distance separating commercial marijuana operations from residences from 300 feet to 600 feet.
Ruling Clears Way For AV Effort To Use Condemnation To Seize Water Company
The Town of Apple Valley, it appears, is now enabled to pursue the acquisition of the water system that served the town for 43 years prior to its 1988 incorporation and the 30 years since.
That clearance came on February 9 in a decision handed down by San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez setting aside the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company’s challenge of the town’s effort to seize the water company and its assets by means of eminent domain.
In 1945, the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company was created by Newt Bass and B.J. Westlund as an adjunct to their effort to develop the town on the 6,500 acres they had acquired from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Shortly after the town incorporated in 1988 the water system’s then-owner, the Wheeler Family, offered to sell it – 18 medium and deep wells, pipes, reservoirs, pumping units and appurtenances – to Town Hall for $2.5 million. The maiden town council spurned that offer.
In 2011, the Carlyle Group, an American multinational private equity and asset management corporation, acquired from the Wheeler Family at a cost of $102.2 million the Park Water Company, which in addition to its water holdings in Apple Valley included the water system serving Compton, Downey and Bellflower in Los Angeles County, as well as the Mountain Water Company, which serves Missoula, Montana.
When the Carlyle Group purchased Park Water, the town of Apple Valley impaneled a so-called blue ribbon committee to consider acquiring Apple Valley Ranchos. The committee advised against the acquisition.
The Carlyle Group packaged the water companies serving Missoula, Bellflower, Compton, Downey, Missoula and Apple Valley together as what it called Western Water Holdings and put them on the market, at the same time embarking on upgrades to the various systems to make them more attractive to potential buyers. Those upgrades also boosted the price the Carlyle Group was asking.
The prevailing sentiment in Apple Valley with regard to the town getting control of its own water utility abruptly changed shortly after the blue ribbon committee weighed in against purchasing the water company. In 2012, Park, now under the control of the Carlyle Group, implemented 19 percent rate increases on Apple Valley Ranchos customers. In 2013, Town of Apple Valley officials, alarmed at the prospect that the water company serving the community’s 69,135 residents and its businesses was about to be purchased by a Canadian company, Algonquin Power/Liberty Utilities, challenged the proposed sale by means of a complaint to the California Public Utilities Commission. In 2014, the Carlyle Group undertook and completed $8.1 million in capital improvements to the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company and then instituted another 30 percent rate hike on Apple Valley Ranchos customers to be implemented from 2015 until 2017. In 2014, town officials began trading notes with Missoula city officials, where Park Water’s Mountain Water Company had likewise escalated rates. In Montana, Missoula officials had initiated what in time would prove to be a successful effort to wrest control of the water utility from its private owner by means of an eminent domain proceeding.
While the California Public Utilities Commission decision was pending in the summer of 2015, the Carlyle Group had arranged for Apple Valley Ranchos to acquire, for $300,000, the water system which serves some 900 residents in the desert community of Yermo, which lies roughly 36 miles from Apple Valley.
Apple Valley simultaneously considered making a straightforward purchase of the system from the Carlyle Group on what at least some town officials hoped might prove amicable terms using a financing strategy involving issuing bonds to create the capital to make the purchase. The ongoing effort to block the sale to Algonquin/Liberty, however had severely compromised any prospect of amicability.
Somewhat unrealistically, the town had set its sights on Park Water selling its Apple Valley assets – the Apple Valley Ranchos water system lock, stock and barrel – for around $50 million. In support of this, the town obtained from what it referred to as “an independent appraisal firm” the rather wishful “fair purchase price” of $45.54 million.
The town’s strategy dead-ended, however, when the California Public Utilities Commission entered a ruling in late December 2015 that the conditional sale to Liberty could proceed.
In January 2016, Liberty Utilities, an American subsidiary of Canadian-owned Algonquin Power and Utility Corporation, finalized its acquisition of Apple Valley Ranchos by consummating the purchase of Park Water Company from the Carlyle Group. Liberty Utilities paid $327 million for all of Western Water Holdings.
Though the California Public Utilities Commission’s action did not rule out the possibility that Apple Valley might acquire Apple Valley Ranchos from Liberty by means of an eminent domain process or otherwise, Liberty’s willingness to pay what the market bears for Park’s collective water assets was a strong indication that the Town of Apple Valley’s notion that it would be able to acquire Apple Valley Ranchos for anything near the $50.3 million offer tendered by the town in informal discussions with Park in 2015 was unrealistic.
In Montana, local water commissioners in June 2015 set the fair market price of the Mountain Water Company, which owns and operates 37 mostly shallow and medium-depth wells, at $88.6 million, pursuant to the eminent domain confiscation process of that entity successfully achieved by the City of Missoula through a Montana court. Missoula, with 69,821 residents, is comparable in population size to Apple Valley, which at present numbers roughly 71,000 at present.
In November 2015, the Apple Valley Town Council approved resolutions of necessity to take the water system by eminent domain. Before the town actually filed that suit, however, Park Water/Apple Valley Ranchos beat the town to the punch, in December 2015 launching legal action of its own to block the eminent domain ploy. That suit requested a writ of mandate that the town undertake a full environmental impact report, alleging that in the abbreviated environmental impact report accompanying the resolutions of necessity the town had provided “inadequate project descriptions” as pertained to both its ability to maintain and operate the water system and what changes were to be made. Thus, Park Water/Apple Valley Ranchos asserted, the environmental impact report the town had undertaken and completed as part of the procedural element of the resolutions of necessity had not complied with the California Environmental Quality Act.
In the more than two years since the filing of that suit, the town’s effort to acquire the water system has hung in limbo as it maintained that it was angling toward a mere change in ownership that would have no appreciable environmental impact. It took the court more than 25 months to resolve that issue. Over that duration, Liberty acquired ownership of Park Water and the Apple Valley water system, willingly inheriting the position of plaintiff. In the same timeframe, Apple Valley plied an argument that essentially held that the environmental impact report it had completed fully addressed all issues pertaining to the town’s takeover effort and that it was exempt from the provisions in the California Environmental Quality Act cited in the suit.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez previously rejected the town’s assertion that it need not undertake a full-blown environmental impact report simply because there was little more than a change in ownership at play, pointing out that the bare bones environmental impact report the town had filed acknowledged that the town would potentially be drawing more water, again potentially depleting the local aquifer, and that it might expand existing facilities. The town asserted that its reliance on existing facilities exempted it from further California Environmental Quality Act requirements.
This month, Alvarez ruled against granting Liberty’s request for a writ of mandate, finding the preponderance of evidence shows the town is exempt from the operative provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act at issue. Along the way, Alvarez noted there were inconsistencies in the town’s position on a number of points, including that when Liberty’s predecessor had sought to acquire the Yermo water system, Apple Valley’s attorney, John Brown, had asserted that Apple Valley Ranchos should have to carry out an exhaustive environmental impact report in order to do so. “On its face, it appears disingenuous for the town to prepare an environmental impact report and then in light of attacks on it assert for the first time as a part of its opposition that an environmental impact report was not even required,” Alvarez wrote. “However, the town cites to several cases in support of the court considering these issues at this time. These cases conclude that this defense can be raised in response to a petition regarding the sufficiency of an environmental impact report.”
Essentially, according to Alvarez, the town, while procedurally required to submit an environmental impact report with its resolution of necessity for the water company takeover, was not under any requirement that the report comply with the criteria outlined in the California Environmental Quality Act.
“The court denies Petitioner Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company’s petition for writ of mandate,” Alvarez wrote in his ruling. “As part of its opposition, the town raised threshold issues regarding the California Environmental Quality Act’s application to the project at issue. After considering the argument and evidence in the administrative record, substantial evidence supports the town’s conclusion the Class 1 categorical exemption applies. As a result, notwithstanding its preparation of an environmental impact report, no such environmental review was mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act, and the court will not consider petitioner’s arguments directed to whether the environmental impact report complied with the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Greg Sorensen, the president of Liberty Utilities’ West Region told the Sentinel, “Liberty Utilities respects the judge’s ruling on the California Environmental Quality Act matter, which means the legal process related to the attempted condemnation will likely continue. If the town moves forward with the condemnation case, millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent to litigate the case, and we are confident the outcome would be similar to what transpired in Claremont, where taxpayers ultimately were on the hook for more than $13 million after failing to demonstrate that municipal ownership is a ‘more necessary use.’”
Sorensen’s reference to Claremont harkens to a ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin in November 2016 which effectively ended the City of Claremont’s effort to commandeer through the eminent domain process the water supply and delivery system serving Claremont that is owned by Golden State Water Company. Fruin rejected Claremont’s contention that upon acquiring Golden State’s 7.5 million gallon storage capacity in Claremont it could complement and tie-in with the City of La Verne’s even more robust 27 million gallon storage capacity, and by partnering with La Verne improve service to Claremont residents. While Claremont continually belabored what it called shortcomings in Golden State’s system serving Claremont, Fruin noted Claremont was in no better of a position – and probably worse – to deal with those issues on its own and that La Verne was itself dogged with water quality and system integrity issues, as well. Fruin said the level of service being delivered to Claremont customers was dramatically different from – and better than – what Claremont was prepared to deliver.
“We are hopeful the town will recognize that collaboration is better for the community than continued conflict, and Liberty Utilities remains willing to work with town officials to find a cooperative solution instead of a costly and contentious legal fight,” Sorensen said.
Apple Valley Councilwoman Barb Stanton told the Sentinel, “When I ran for reelection my top priority was founded on controlling our town’s water destiny. After our efforts to purchase Apple Valley Ranchos were rejected, we turned to the eminent domain process, The town has always held the position that we would prevail in the California Environmental Quality Act challenge. Judge Alvarez’s ruling allows us to move forward with the eminent domain process and continue our fight for local control of our water system.”
The success of Apple Valley’s eminent domain suit will turn on its ability to establish with a preponderance of evidence that the public interest in the town’s ownership of the water system outruns the sustaining of private ownership rights, that “driving necessity” dictates that the town can operate and manage the system not only adequately but as well or better than Liberty Utilities, and that there is a compelling reason for the town to make the acquisition. That may prove difficult, given that the town council has on numerous occasions itself rejected the necessity for doing so, including shortly after the city’s founding and again as recently as 2012 when the town’s blue ribbon committee recommended against making such an acquisition.
Whether the town succeeds in obtaining the water system through eminent domain, which is sometimes referred to as a condemnation proceeding, or, as some have suggested, through a less strident negotiating process, it will be expensive.
When condemnation is used, by law the entity forcing the purchase must pay fair market value consistent with the “highest and best use” of the assets being seized.
Considering the $327 million price tag Algonquin/Liberty paid for the entirety of Western Water Holdings, which included Mountain Water in Missoula, Montana consisting of 37 mostly shallow and medium-depth wells serving 69,821 residents, the Los Angeles County Park Water operation that entailed 12 wells serving roughly six percent of 96,455-population Compton and roughly eight percent of both 76,616-population Bellflower and 113,242-population Downey, and the Apple Valley Ranchos Water company operating 24 deep wells throughout Apple Valley and three wells in Yermo, a fair market price for Apple Valley Ranchos to be adjudicated by the courts is likely to exceed $100 million. Subtracting the $88.6 million fair market value for Mountain Water upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court from the $327 million purchase price for Western Water Holdings would indicate that the Bellflower-Compton-Downey and the Apple Valley/Yermo components of Western Water are worth $238.4 million. Assuming Apple Valley Ranchos represents roughly one half of the remaining Western Water assets now in the possession of Algonquin/Liberty, its fair market value would be approximately $119 million. Such an assumption might not be accurate as Apple Valley Ranchos owns and operates 27 wells compared to the 12 wells Park Water has in Los Angeles County while Apple Valley Ranchos serves a population of some 71,000 in comparison to the Compton-Bellflower-Downey operation, which serves a population of roughly 20,976. Based on such a calculation, Apple Valley Ranchos might be deemed to have a fair market value of $165 million.
Half Dozen Officers Who Faced Down Farook & Malik Honored At White House
Six San Bernardino County law enforcement officers on Tuesday were awarded the Public Safety Medal of Valor by President Donald Trump for their dynamic action in response to the December 2, 2015 shooting massacre at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.
During the February 20 ceremony at the White House, Redlands Police Officer Nick Koahou, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Corporal Rafael Ixco, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Corporal Chad Johnson, San Bernardino Sheriff’s deputies Shaun Wallen and Bruce Southworth, and San Bernardino Police Officer Brian Olvera were each presented with a medal in recognition of their decisive action and bravery that brought to a close the mayhem perpetrated by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, which ended with 14 dead and 22 wounded.
“Six of the heroes with us today chased down (Farook and Malik) and put an end to their sinister rampage, which was going to get a lot worse,” said President Trump. “During the attack, officer Koahou was shot in the leg, but he continued to fight back despite a really horrific wound. Today, we are fortunate to honor him and the rest of that amazing team.”
At the time of the incident Koahou was an officer with the San Bernardino Police Department, His heroics came in the aftermath of the mass shootings at the Inland Regional Center, where on that morning staff members with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health were holding a joint training session/holiday party. Farook was a health inspector with the department, and after participating in the session with his colleagues earlier in the morning, departed briefly and then returned at around 11 a.m. with his wife, Malik. Armed with two .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles, which were variants of the AR-15, and two 9 mm caliber semi-automatic pistols, the couple in less than four minutes fired between 65 and 75 rounds into the meeting room where Farook’s colleagues were gathered and then left before police arrived, returning to their home in Redlands.
Four hours after the attack, police spotted Farook and Malik and gave chase. A relatively brief pursuit ended on a San Bernardino street 2 miles east of the Inland Regional Center. A gun battle ensued, with law enforcement officers discharging 440 rounds and Farook and Malik firing roughly 80 rifle and handgun rounds at the officers. During the firefight, Wallen was wounded and was pinned behind a vehicle. Koahou, leaving his position of cover while returning fire, vaulted to assist Wallen, and was shot in the leg while doing so. Ultimately, Farook was shot no fewer than 26 times. His wife sustained at least 15 gunshot wounds. Both died on the scene.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, President Trump presented the medals of valor to a dozen people from across the county who had shown exemplary courage in the face of emergencies and dire circumstances.
“The 12 patriots we honor come from many places and serve in many different roles,” President Trump said. “But they all share one thing in common – when faced with danger, they each put the lives of others before their own. There are some very brave people I’m standing with.”
City Says Mayor Was Cleared In Sexual Harassment Probe
The investigation into allegations that Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr had sexually harassed a Victor Valley College coed working as an intern with the city has resulted in a finding the mayor did nothing “unlawful,” according to a press release put out by the city’s publicist this afternoon.
The announcement comes more than ten weeks after the accusations against the mayor were first made public and within the context of similar allegations that were previously leveled at the Adelanto city manager.
There were continuing questions with regard to the matter, however, as the press release heralding the announcement was sent out to news organizations prior to at least two members of the city council having access to the investigatory report, its back-up material including interviews, and its conclusions. Moreover, word was that the city’s contract economic development director, a political ally of the mayor, had threatened the alleged victim who is the mayor’s primary accuser in an effort to dissuade her from cooperating with the investigation.
In mid-December, three woman, two city employees and a college student working an internship at the city through the CalWORKS program, filed allegations of impropriety with regard to city manager Gabriel Elliott’s personal comportment with them, consisting of claims he had made unwanted sexual advances toward them or engaged with them persistently in ways they deemed inappropriate or too forward. By December 19, he was put on paid administrative leave. On December 21, another Victor Valley College student involved in the CalWORKS program filed a declaration in which she said she had been the object of Kerr’s unwanted advances, which included text messages and a gift, and that Kerr had touched her on her neck and shoulders. Moreover, the accusations against Kerr were augmented by statements from others that the mayor had made expressions of carnal desire toward the young woman in certain of his utterances, as well as by evidence he had improperly utilized a city employee to access the intern’s personal information and provide him with her phone number.
Relatively early on, it was being bruited about City Hall and the circle of those involved there that the complaints against the city manager had been sparked or orchestrated by the mayor and that the city manager was in some fashion involved in triggering the complaint against the mayor.
Within the last fortnight the investigations undertaken against both Elliott and Kerr were concluded, and the city council deadlocked both last week and this week with regard to using the report and its conclusion with regard to Elliott as the basis for terminating him, with Kerr and councilman John Woodard favoring cashiering Elliott and councilmen Charley Glasper and Ed Camargo unconvinced that the report suffices as adequate grounds for his removal. Elliott remains on paid administrative leave, and is receiving more than $18,000 per month while he is in his current state of suspension. The city is simultaneously paying Mike Milhiser just under $12,000 per month to serve as the interim city manager in Elliott’s absence.
Coexistant with this circumstance is the vacuum on the council that has resulted as a consequence of the FBI’s November arrest of then-councilman Jermaine Wright and the filing of charges by the U.S, Attorney’s Office against him alleging bribe-taking on his part together with involvement in an arson-for-hire/insurance fraud plot. Wright’s continuous incarceration since then led to his being removed from the city council in January. Accordingly, there has been a 2-to-2 divide on the council with regard to several issues of consequence in the City of Adelanto, with Kerr and Woodard consistently on one side of that divide and Glasper and Camargo on the other.
It was against that backdrop that the city’s official spokesman, Mike Stephens, today sent out a very carefully worded press release, in which it was suggested that Kerr had been exonerated of breaking the law. According to Stevens, “Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr did not engage in unlawful sexual harassment, an independent investigator has concluded following a two-month investigation. The investigator concludes that Kerr did not engage in unlawful sexual harassment nor did he violate city policies.”
Stevens stopped short of stating that Kerr had not harassed the woman in question, maintaining essentially that Kerr’s action was not a violation of any existing statutes. As to the actual findings of the investigation, including its precise language and whether the conclusion reached by the investigator verified the intern’s claim or showed that someone on city staff had accessed her confidential information for Kerr, Stevens was unwilling to say. “Because of confidentiality laws, the investigator’s report and its findings are confidential and will not be released or discussed publicly,” according to Stevens.
Nor did Stevens expand on questions about the integrity of the investigation or the consideration that neither Glasper nor Camargo had been vouchsafed the opportunity to read the investigator’s report. There have been persistent reports that after the investigation began, efforts to prevent the investigator from obtaining a full rendering of the facts were made.
One consideration in this regard is that the college student lodging the complaint against Kerr was doing her internship in the city’s code enforcement division. For more than a year, the city’s code enforcement officers have been bridling over what they consider to be the mayor’s violations of Section 6.09 of the city’s code, which directs the mayor and members of the city council to engage with city employees through the city manager and down the chain of command, and prohibits them from interfering directly in the day-to-day function of city employees. On multiple occasions, according to city employees, code enforcement has been ordered to “stand down,” i.e., desist in enforcement or to short circuit or rescind already issued citations involving certain businesses, properties or entities in town with what are considered affiliations, personal and/or political, with the mayor and/or city council members. In recent months, members of the code enforcement division have begun to resist such instruction from Kerr, with the support of the division’s leader, community safety manager Steve Peltier. Several of the employees in the code enforcement division supported the intern in her resolve to lodge the complaint against Kerr. Peltier provided her with crucial assistance in doing so, in the form of a text message Kerr sent to him on October 6, 2017 in which Kerr requested that Peltier obtain for him the intern’s phone number. A printout of that text conversation was included in the intern’s sexual harassment complaint.
Shortly after the complaint was lodged, Kerr advanced the idea of terminating the code enforcement division’s employees and contracting out the city’s code enforcement service. In January, shortly after public revelation of Peltier’s involvement in providing the intern with documentation to support her complaint, Peltier went out on stress leave and has not returned. It is not clear whether the investigator who looked into the intern’s complaint spoke with Peltier. A city employee told the Sentinel the degree of alacrity with which Kerr’s mounted pressure upon Peltier after his encouragement of the intern going forward with her sex harassment complaint smacked of “Mafia-like tactics.”
A more serious issue compromising the investigation, the Sentinel is informed, involves Jesse Flores, the city’s contract economic development director. Flores approached the Victor Valley College coed and told her that “it was in her best interest to keep her mouth shut,” according to one Adelanto city employee. It appears that may have dissuaded her from speaking to the investigator.
Neither Flores nor Kerr were available for comment on Friday.
Interim city manager Mike Milhiser referred questions regarding Flores’ alleged action and the full nature of the investigation to city attorney Ruben Duran.
Duran said that he could offer no information with regard to the investigation or the report. “You understand, this is something that is subject to attorney-client privilege,” he said. Confronted about why a press release from the city relating to the conclusion of the investigation had been distributed prior to the members of the city council having the opportunity to read the report, Duran at first challenged the question, suggesting that all members of the council had seen the report but then essentially conceded that it had not been distributed to them, in so doing bypassing the question with regard to the council having actually read the report and the timing of the press release. Duran substituted an assertion that the council had been brought up to speed on the investigation report’s contents. “You don’t know the substance of the conversations I have had with my council members, so for you to assume the information hasn’t been distributed to them is off base,” he said. “The city engaged a private investigator to look into those accusations concerning the mayor. The investigation was conducted appropriately, but I am not able to discuss any of the specifics in the report because it is a confidential document upon which I am not authorized to speak.”
Asked directly about the report relating to Flores’ having threatened the victim, Duran said “I have no information about that.” Queried as to whether he had a concern that such threats to the crucial percipient witness to the activity in question, i.e., the victim, could have compromised the investigation, Duran was unwilling to concede that the investigation and its conclusion might be based on incomplete or faulty information. He then suggested that Flores, who was active in Kerr’s mayoral campaign and remains one of his most ardent political supporters, had not intimidated the victim. “I don’t believe it happened,” he said, remarking, “Quite frankly, if it had, I would have heard about it.”
Asked if the investigator had considered the possibility of Flores’ interference in the investigation, or if she had spoken with Flores or the victim about that, Duran seemed to suggest that issue was not explored during the investigation. But then, contradictorily and rather obliquely, Duran gave indication that the victim/witness may have been dissuaded from cooperating with the investigator, seeming to imply that the investigator had not spoken to her. When asked for clarification on that point, Duran said, “If I gave you that impression, I apologize, because I am not commenting on the report and what may be in it.”
He said that whether the victim had been questioned by the investigator or not was immaterial.
“Generally speaking, investigators are able to get to the bottom of things by speaking to many people,” Duran said. “The investigator is a woman, not a man, by the way. She conducted an appropriate and thorough investigation. The investigator has made a determination there was no sexual harassment, and I have full confidence in her analysis and conclusion.”
Duran also spoke to the apparent contradiction between the ways in which the complaint against the mayor and the complaint against the city manager were being handled. He said the distinction between their respective levels of authority and the answerability of the city manager to the council accounted for the difference.
“The city council is the city manager’s employer,” Duran said in explaining that oversight of the report is properly entrusted to the city council. “It is the council’s obligation to review in detail and make a determination about the report. The mayor doesn’t have an employer the way the city manager does. He is answerable to them.” Duran avoided extending the analogy further, however, and offered no admission that the mayor is answerable to the city’s residents or that they would be entitled to see the investigator’s report and conclusion. Rather, he suggested, the investigative report on the mayor’s action is subject to the strictures of confidentiality, and any oversight responsibility with regard to it should rest with him as the city attorney.
Duran would not disclose who the investigator was.
Trans Authority’s Unilateral Design Changes Provoke Suits To Delay Intercounty Rail Line
The prospect of bringing Los Angeles County’s light rail system into San Bernardino County by the previous target date of 2023 has dimmed with the cities of Pomona and San Dimas having initiated legal action against the joint powers authority that is working toward effectuating the $1.5 billion 12.3-mile extension of the project.
The Gold Line is a 19.7-mile light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, work toward which began in 1998 with the creation of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority. The Authority was founded with the intention of resuming design, contracting and construction of the Los Angeles-to-Pasadena rail line formerly referred to as the Pasadena Blue Line after the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority had suspended work on it that same year.
The newly formed Construction Authority completed the Los Angeles-to-Pasadena segment, which served several locations including Downtown Los Angeles, Little Tokyo, Union Station, the Southwest Museum, Chinatown, and Old Town Pasadena, in 2003. Thereafter, work was undertaken on an 11.5 mile extension of the line from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border, which reached completion in 2015. That same year, having already completed an environmental impact report for the next logical phase of the project, a 12.3-mile extension from Azusa to Montclair, the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority board rechanneled some $33 million left over from the Pasadena-to-Azusa construction project to immediately begin planning and preconstruction preparations for the next progression of the rail system.
At that point, the projected cost of the line from the western end of Glendora to Montclair was pegged at $1.18 billion. Ultimately, San Bernardino County, through its transportation agency, then known as SANBAG (an acronym for San Bernardino Associated Governments) and now known as SBCTA [for San Bernardino County Transportation Authority] agreed to commit to putting up $55 million of that cost.
Things moved along apace thereafter, but as they did, officials in both San Dimas and Pomona grew alarmed at aspects of the project which they felt represented complications or problems for them and their residents. Both cities, which had been amenable to the original design and footprint of the project as proposed, upon scrutiny of intended changes to the scope and design of the project as it progressed, found certain aspects of those adjustments objectionable. Moreover and more seriously, both took exception to the most recent design changes stipulated by planners without their consent. In October, in order to prevent the project from proceeding to a point of no return, the cities sued the Metro Gold Line Extension Construction Authority, effectively halting further progress on the project. In the four months since, the lawsuits have essentially been put on hold, as the parties carried out a dialogue in an effort to resolve the points of contention. It does not appear that there was any substantial progress toward an accommodation.
The lawsuit filed by San Dimas in large measure revolves around the rail line’s impact on the city’s downtown. Previously, the city accepted the tracks moving through that district at ground level, as was originally proposed. Since that time, however, regulations superimposed on the construction authority by the California Public Utilities Commission removed the option of laying the line at street level. Instead, the authority is now opting to elevate the track through downtown San Dimas over the Bonita/Cataract avenues intersection by means of a 28-foot high bridge, which is to be accompanied by a retaining wall. San Dimas city officials are opposed to the bridge and wall, which they maintain will effectively separate the central area of the city from San Dimas’s west end and present a major visual obstruction both from and into downtown.
The San Dimas lawsuit objects to the design changes within San Dimas unilaterally initiated and incorporated into the project by the Metro Gold Line Extension Construction Authority without consultation with San Dimas, including the rail overpass and further modifications to a parking garage within walking distance from the Walnut Avenue/Arrow Highway San Dimas Gold Line Station, which will eliminate entirely one of the traffic lanes along Arrow Highway. This latter component will reduce traffic flow through the area and cause back-ups, the suit maintains. San Dimas also objects to the project’s eradication of two historic properties along Arrow Highway, including the William T. Michael residence.
The San Dimas suit calls for an environmental impact report on the proposed changes.
Pomona objected to being saddled with design changes that deviated substantially from what it had agreed to in 2013. Without prior consultation with or approval by Pomona, the Construction Authority board in September called for dispensing with a single flyover bridge over Towne Avenue and instead constructing dual bridges, one 100-feet long and the other 125-feet long. That move was meant to alleviate strain on Pomona residents, a construction authority staff report stated, in that it would require less construction time and lessen street closures. Pomona City Attorney Andrew Jared, however, objected to the changes, saying they would entail a steep rise in the rail line and an increase in the elevation of the track platform, visually impacting residential properties north of the railway line, particularly east of Towne Avenue.
Both cases have been assigned to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos.
The Foothill Gold Line Board of Directors includes Glendora City Councilman Doug Tessitor, an appointee of the City of Pasadena; Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza, an appointee of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments; Marisol Rodriguez, a representative of Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, an alternate appointee of the City of Los Angeles; Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, an appointee of the City of South Pasadena; Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, an appointee of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority; Pasadena Vice Mayor Gene Masuda, an appointee of the City of Pasadena; Carrie Bowen, the director of California Department of Transportation District 7, an appointee of Governor Jerry Brown; attorney Daniel Evans, an appointee of the City of South Pasadena; and Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner, an appointed of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency.
Queried on the lawsuit and the unilateral action taken without consultation with San Dimas and Pomona that had precipitated it, Leon told the Sentinel, “I can’t give you a response. The last time I heard about it was in closed session, so it’s not something I can talk about. All I can say is I have no comment.”
Democrats Making Pre-Primary Endorsements Today, Tomorrow & Sunday
The California Democratic Party will hold its endorsing convention in San Diego today tomorrow and Sunday. At stake are party endorsements for Democratic Party hopefuls up and down the Golden State.
Of local note, in Congressional District 8, two women are looking to supplant incumbent Republican House of Representatives member Paul Cook. Rita Ramirez Dean, who two years ago achieved second place in the June primary to qualify to challenge Cook in November 2016, is seeking the party endorsement. She, however is not a shoo-in to get that accolade because Marjorie Doyle has her sights on the prize, as do Ronald O’Donnell Elizabeth Kolunsich.
On January 27 the Democrats held pre-endorsement conventions at multiple locations around California. Any candidate who obtained 70 percent or more endorsing votes from local party members participating in those forums has been put on the consent calendar at the state nominating convention. Those getting over 50 percent but less than 70 percent of the endorsements at their local conventions will be considered by an endorsing caucus to be voted upon by the party’s delegates.
There is going to be a catfight over whether incumbent congress members Pete Aguilar, in Congressional District 31, and Norma Torres, in Congressional District 35, will get their party’s endorsement this year because of their recent votes with 10 other Democrats nationwide supporting a Republican-sponsored bill, HR 620, calling for the elimination of requirements that businesses comply with certain aspects of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Kaisar Ahmed, who says he will defend the Americans With Disabilities Act, is seeking the Democrats’ endorsement over Aguilar.
In Assembly District 40, where Republican Marc Steinorth is the incumbent, it is anticipated that wealthy San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos will capture the party’s endorsement as he has already gotten more than 70 percent of the local endorsing votes and is on the consent calendar.
In Senate District 20, incumbent Connie Leyva has been placed on the consent calendar as there are no Democrats challenging her at this point.
In Assembly District 47 and Assembly District 41, respectively, incumbent Eloise Gomez Reyes and Chris Holden have achieved placement on the consent calendar.
In Assembly District 55, Greg Fritchle has no challenger and will likely be endorsed as his name is on the consent calendar.
Judy Chu, Congresswoman in CD 27, likewise is on the consent calendar.
Ruth Musser Lopez, who four years ago lost to incumbent Republican Jean Fuller in California Senate District 16, is again seeking election there. Fuller is termed out and two Republican newcomers are testing their luck against Lopez, who has already sewn up the Democratic endorsement, having received 100 percent of the local endorsement vote, and is on the consent calendar at this week’s convention in San Diego.
In Assembly District 42, where Republican Chad Mayes holds office, the Democrats must determine whether they will give their endorsement to John Doddridge or DeniAntoinette Mazingo.
In Assembly 33, where Republican Jay Obernolte has held office for nearly four years, three Democrats – Scott Markovich, Socorro Cisneros and Roger LePlante – all fell short of getting 50 percent in the pre-endorsement phase and therefore there will be no party endorsement this year.
In Assembly District 52, incumbent Freddie Rodriquez is being challenged for the party’s endorsement by Michael Cory Flores.
In Congressional District 39, neither Jay Chen, Gilbert Cisneros, Samir Jammal, Phil Andrew Janowicz, Herbert Lee, Suzi Park Leggett, Ted Rusk, Sybil Steed, Andy Thorbum and Mai-Khanh Tran will get the endorsement as none of the ten received 50 percent of the endorsements at the local endorsing convention.
Forum… Or Against ’em
By Count Friedrich von Olsen
Why do I get the feeling that special counsel Robert Mueller – the former FBI director – is running a bluff with this rather extraordinary indictment of 13 Russians accused of an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 presidential election? I’ll tell you why…
The 13 Russians are charged with running a massive but shrouded so-called “social media trolling campaign” which Mueller maintains was intended, at least in part, at helping Donald Trump, the successful Republican candidate, defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 American Presidential Election.
In what purports to be but really are not new and detailed allegations as I will get to shortly, Mr. Mueller delineates illegal Russian meddling during the campaign that resulted in Donald Trump taking residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at least until January 20, 2021. According to the indictment, the effort was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian restaurateur, and carried out through a St. Petersburg-based Russian organization known as “the Internet Research Agency,” consisting of a sophisticated, energetic and extensive disinformation campaign intended to sway political opinion in the United States in the run-up to the election. The tactics involved included internet postings being made using the names of actual Americans without their participation or knowledge, Russian operatives posing as American activists and putting on public events or political rallies, paying actual Americans, witting or unwitting, to promote the candidacies of some politicians, together with outright advertising on behalf of certain candidates or paying people, most of them presumably American citizens, to promote or oppose candidates…
According to the indictment, “Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov, Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova, Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, Robert Sergeyevich Bovda, Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov (who is also known as Jayshoon Aslanov or Jay Aslanov), Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, and Vladimir Venkov worked in various capacities to carry out defendant organization’s interference operations targeting the United States. From in or around 2014 to the present, defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
Although I lack the legal expertise to say for sure, I will accept as true for the purposes of discussion Mr. Mueller’s assertion that “interfering” in a U.S. election is illegal. I take it there would be evidence at trial, if there were to be a trial, of this “interference.” I nevertheless have some difficulty here…
What is interference? Does that mean influencing an election? Well, all sorts of things influence elections. The candidates themselves, who are legitimate, influence elections. By definition, political rivals, that is candidates running against one another, interfere with elections and with each other. They interfere with the message being put out by their opponents by contradicting their opponents and disputing what they are saying. This interference is part and parcel of campaigning. Since, presumably, one candidate would very likely win if that candidate’s opponent refused to campaign, we might reasonably assert that any candidate who wins an election in which the opposing candidate campaigned interfered in the election. Yet Mr. Mueller has not sought, nor has a grand jury returned, indictments of all of the elected office holders in the U.S. So, I ask again, what is interference?
Perhaps the crime here is not interference, per se, since all candidates and their supporters are interfering in the electoral process. Rather, perhaps, the crime is that non-U.S. citizens were involving themselves in the electoral process. Ah, now we are getting somewhere. But wait. Am I to interpret that to mean that foreign nationals who weigh in on or in any way get involved in campaigns in the United States are violating U.S. law? That sounds to me like a whole lot of journalists the world over – in Canada, in Mexico, in England, in France, in Italy, in Germany, in Spain, in Georgia, in the Ukraine, in Russia, in China, in Japan, the list goes on and on – have broken U.S. law. Conceivably something or anything they have written might impact the outcome of a U.S. election, and they have therefore interfered in the U.S. electoral process…
Perhaps that is not what Mr. Mueller means. Perhaps he means people such as Mr. Prigozhin or Mr. Bystrov or cooperatives such as the Internet Research Agency working to convince Americans to vote for one candidate or another or to not vote for one candidate or another are violating U.S. law. But, it seems to me, there might be some flaw in that if the same U.S. law does not prohibit U.S. citizens from working to convince citizens of other countries to vote for one candidate or another in their countries or to not vote for one candidate or another in their countries. The record is pretty clear that not only have some selected U.S. citizens, but has the U.S. government itself, interfered in the electoral process in Iran, Italy, Greece, Germany, Australia, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Viet Nam, among several others. Yet no U.S. federal grand jury has indicted any U.S. citizens for this activity…
Mr. Mueller offered all of this information about the Internet Research Agency as if it was something new and the product of a competently-run U.S. government investigation. Actually, very little of that information was new. By reading the work of the Russian journalist Andrey Zakharov, I have known since 2015 about the activity of Mikhail Bystrov and Mikhail Burchik and Jeyhun Asinov. There was interesting information available in the same timeframe with regard to another operation that was run by some Macedonians to sway American voters. I’ve not seen any indictment of the Macedonian trollers. More recently, in October, Mr. Zakharov together with Polina Rusyaeva published an even more comprehensive article delineating the activity of the St. Petersburg troll factory. There are a whole bunch of people the world over and in our own country pretending to be something they are not and saying things they know to not be true to influence others. I see no action being taken against them…
I believe Mr. Mueller is bluffing. The indicted Russians are not in custody and are not likely to ever face trial. Yet, one of those indicted Russians could send an attorney here or hire an American lawyer to march into federal court and declare: “My client contests that he has committed any kind of crime. There are inaccuracies in the indictment which demonstrate that the U.S. Government is prejudiced against my client and his co-defendants. Accordingly, he does not believe he can receive a fair trial in this venue and he has used his prerogative as world citizen outside the jurisdiction of the United States to remove this matter to the International Tribunal in the Hague.” Once before that august court, the defendant would then be free to put on his defense, replete with demonstrations of how the United States and its agents overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953; deposed Guatemala’s president, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954; prevented the election of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1964 and then had him assassinated in 1973 after he won in 1970; forced Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam from office in 1975; and involved itself in a propaganda and disinformation campaign in the 1990 Nicaragua elections that brought about President Daniel Ortega’s loss to opposition candidate Violeta Chamorro. Would Mr. Mueller venture to the Netherlands to prosecute the case in such a circumstance, where he had to pit the U.S. record of meddling in foreign campaigns against that of the Russians? Or would he tacitly admit he is bluffing by refusing to recognize the International Court’s authority, and insist on a show trial here in our own country?
A Victorville-based doctor was arrested February 21 on federal charges of illegally selling prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose, after apparently having done so to undercover operatives who visited his High Desert medical office.
Wendell Mark Street, 66, was arrested Wednesday morning without incident at his Las Vegas residence by special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Street’s arrest was the result of a 10-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on February 9. The indictment charges Street with five counts of illegally distributing the painkiller oxycodone and five counts of illegally distributing the tranquilizer alprazolam (often sold under the brand name Xanax). Street allegedly issued the prescriptions in 2013 in exchange for cash “while acting and intending to act outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Street allegedly wrote prescriptions without performing any physical examinations in exchange for $200 to $300 in cash from each of two undercover investigators with the California Medical Board and an informant. The five counts related to illegal distribution of oxycodone each carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. The five counts related to alprazolam each carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.
During the investigation into Street, investigators executed a search warrant at his Victorville office in 2014. Street surrendered his California medical license in 2016. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Victoria A. Degtyareva of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Case No. 151702358
A 41-year-old San Bernardino woman has been arrested and charged with violations of Penal Code 475 – possession of forged checks, and Penal Code 530.5 – identity theft.
On December 19, 2017, at approximately 5:00 p.m., Deputy K. Hogue, from the sheriff’s central station, Loma Linda patrol, went to the 25000 block of Carrol Court for a call that a community mailbox had been broken into. Through investigation deputy Hogue discovered earlier that day a Hispanic female attempted to cash a fraudulent check at a Loma Linda credit union. The check was one of many checks stolen from the community mailbox.
Detective David Rayenhartz took over the investigation and was able to identify the Hispanic female as Teresa Serna. On February 16, 2018, detectives contacted Serna at her residence in the 2300 block of Sepulveda Avenue in San Bernardino. Detectives took Serna into custody and served a search warrant at the residence. During the search, detectives located additional computers, identifications, credit cards and bank information depicting potential victim’s names. Serna was arrested and booked at the Central Detention Center on the forged check and identity theft charges.
Jonathan Michael Ramos, 69, a Fontana resident with a chiropractic office in Ontario, was arrested Thursday February 8 on suspicion of possessing and on-line distribution of child pornography.
Having grounds, based on having traced an IP address to Ramos’ home, authorities obtained a search warrant and upon serving it at his residence in the 15000 block of Primrose Court found what they say is evidence to justify an arrest.
An Upland man was arrested by Azusa Police on February 8 on suspicion of bilking immigrants in the Southland through a fraudulent immigration services business, which in Spanish is referred to as a notorio.
Deputy District Attorneys Ryann Gerber Jorban and Leonard Torrealba of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division said Augusto “Tito” Gonzalez De La Cruz, 57, scammed 15 victims out of $183,300 by offering immigration services they never received between May 1, 2015, and January 26, 2018. Gonzalez De La Cruz was charged with 20 felonies on February 9.
He allegedly made false promises that included expediting the processing of visas, resident alien cards and citizenship petitions, prosecutors said.
Lucio Cota Lopez, 34 of Fontana has been charged with felony animal cruelty. According to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, Lopez became upset with a kitten that came into his apartment, upon which he placed the animal in his freezer. Thereafter he crushed it and then threw it from a balcony window.
Lopez was arranged on the charge February 9.
Two Riverside County residents and their associate from Arizona have been arrested and charged with grand theft auto and possession of stolen property after the two former individuals absconded with a vehicle from Temucla.
Stephanie Snyder, 27 years old from Wildomar and Andrew Hernandez, 27 years old from Lake Elsinore, while in the parking lot to the Walmart in Temecula found a key ring. Using the keyless remote, they were able to locate the victim’s parked car and drove it to Lake Havasu City, Arizona where they picked up their friend, Zandra Gibson. The threesome spent several days in Laughlin, Nevada. In Needles, sheriff’s deputy Dave Wagner took notice of the vehicle near the intersection of J Street and Broadway, and determined it was stolen. He stopped the vehicle, which was being driven by Stephanie Snyder, after it began traveling eastbound on the Interstate 40 freeway, and arrested the occupants.
An investigation revealed that Snyder and Hernandez found the keys to the stolen car.
Snyder and Hernandez were booked into the Colorado River Station Jail for vehicle theft with bail amounts of $50,000. Gibson was booked for possession of stolen property with a bail amount of $25,000.
The vehicle was returned to the registered owner in Murrieta.
The sheriff’s department early this month swooped in on a domestic situation in which two children were allegedly being exposed to a hazardous circumstance.
On Wednesday, February 7, 2018, at approximately 2:30 p.m., the Yucca Valley Multiple Enforcement Team, which counts sheriff’s deputies Efrain Herrera and Robert Moreno of the problem oriented policing detail among its members, served a search warrant in the 3200 block of Rockwood Road in Joshua Tree. The search turned up a loaded firearm, a large amount of methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and other illegal weapons. Jesse Jimenez and Kellye Rumney were contacted at the residence. Jimenez was arrested for possession of narcotics for sale and being a felon in possession of a loaded firearm. Rumney had two small children living at the residence and was arrested for child endangerment.
Jimenez was booked into the Morongo Basin Jail and is being held on $50,000 bail. Rumney was also booked at the Morongo Basin Jail and is being held on $100,000 bail.
Pimping & Pandering
Three young adults making their way in the world by trafficking in nubile flesh have been arrested.
On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, investigators from the San Bernardino County Human Trafficking Task Force were conducting a motel operation in the 200 block of Hospitality Lane. Two females were contacted and provided services. While conducting the initial investigation, other task force members initiated contact with four additional subjects, also believed to be involved in Human Trafficking. All four subjects were detained and transported to the San Bernardino Police Station. Three of those individuals were Denzel Freeman, a 21-year-old man from Modesto; William Sisco, a 22-year-old man from Modesto; and Halen Hale, an 18-year-old woman from Modesto. The fourth individual was an 18-year-old woman from Modesto who has been characterized as a victim and her name was not released. Through additional interviews and investigation, investigators were able to determine that Freeman and Sisco were involved in pimping and pandering the victim and Hale was also involved in the pandering of the victim.
The sugar pine, scientifically known as the pinus lambertiana and also commonly referred to as the sugar cone pine, is the tallest and most massive pine tree. Native to the mountains of the Pacific Coast California to Baja California, it has the longest cones of any conifer.
These trees commonly grow to heights of between 130 feet and 195 feet, on occasion to 260 feet, with typical trunk diameters from 4 feet 11 in to 8 feet 2 inches, exceptionally to 11 feet 6 inches. The tallest recorded specimen, located in Yosemite National Park, is 273 feet 9 inches tall,and was discovered in 2015. The second tallest recorded was “Yosemite Giant,” a 269 feet 2 inch tall specimen also in Yosemite. It died from a bark beetle attack in 2007.
Pinus lambertiana is a member of the white pine group, Pinus subgenus Strobus, and, like all members of that group, has leaves, i.e., needles, which grow in fascicles, i.e., bundles of five, with a deciduous sheath. They are 2 1⁄4 to 4 1⁄4 inches long. Sugar pine cones are generally 9 3⁄4 inches –19 3⁄4 inches long, exceptionally reaching 26 inches long, although the cones of the Coulter pine are heavier. The seeds are 13⁄32 inches to 15⁄32 inches long, with a 3⁄4 inch to 1 1⁄8-inch long wing that aids their dispersal by wind. The seeds of the sugar pine are also a type of edible pine nut.
The sugar pine has been severely affected by the white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), a fungus that was accidentally introduced from Europe in 1909. A high proportion of sugar pines has been killed by the blister rust, particularly in the northern part of the species’ range that has experienced the rust for a longer period of time. The rust has also destroyed much of the western white pine and whitebark pine throughout their ranges. The U.S. Forest Service has a program for developing rust-resistant sugar pine and western white pine. Seedlings of these trees have been introduced into the wild. The Sugar Pine Foundation in the Lake Tahoe Basin has been successful in finding resistant sugar pine seed trees and has demonstrated that it is important for the public to assist the U.S. Forest Service in restoring this species. However, blister rust is much less common in California, and Sugar, Western White and Whitebark pines still survive in great numbers there.
Naturalist John Muir considered sugar pine to be the “king of the conifers.” The common name comes from the sweet resin, which Native Americans used as a sweetener. John Muir found it preferable to maple sugar. It is also known as the great sugar pine. The scientific name was assigned by David Douglas in honor of Aylmer Bourke Lambert.
The Washo language has a word for sugar pine, simt’á:gɨm, and also a word for “sugar pine sugar,” nanómba.
In the Achomawi creation myth, Annikadel, the creator, makes one of the ‘First People’ by intentionally dropping a sugar pine seed in a place where it can grow. One of the descendants in this ancestry is Sugarpine-Cone man, who has a handsome son named Ahsoballache.
After Ahsoballache marries the daughter of To’kis the Chipmunk-woman, his grandfather insists that the new couple have a child. To this end, the grandfather breaks open a scale from a sugar pine cone, and secretly instructs Ahsoballache to immerse the scale’s contents in spring water, then hide them inside a covered basket. Ahsoballache performs the tasks that night; at the next dawn, he and his wife discover the infant Edechewe near their bed
From Wikipedia and www.confiers.org