Controversial Ex-Mayor of Banning Gets Berth On Redlands Planning Commission

Redlands has turned to a now-transplanted and once-controversial local politician from Riverside County to serve on its planning commission.
Bob Botts, who was a councilman and mayor with Banning for just shy of 7 years before his sudden resignation on October 8, 2013, was appointed, along with Donn Grenda, to the planning commission on January 16. They replaced Ken Jeske and Jan Hudson as commissioners on the seven-member panel.
Botts was elected to the Banning City Council in 2006, campaigning as an experienced and successful functionary in the private sector where he had been an executive vice president for Pacific Savings Bank, the vice president of Botts Welding & Truck Service, Inc., and former chief financial officer for Garner Holt Productions, Inc. He was a member of the Banning Chamber of Commerce and a founder of the Banning Cultural Alliance.
While in office in Banning, Botts found himself enmeshed in a series of contretemps and political scandals, some of which became fodder for the Riverside County Grand Jury. He was closely affiliated with the development industry, having served as a paid lobbyist on behalf of Diversified Pacific Communities, a residential developer, while receiving substantial political contributions from the Building Association of Southern California, Lake Forest-based Professional Community Management, and Los Angeles-based Pardee Homes.
While he was leading the council, the city misapplied $14 million in bond funds which had been earmarked for a water reclamation project to the construction of a police station, a move demonstrated to have been in violation of Proposition 218.
Prior to Botts getting on the council, the Banning Cultural Alliance, which Botts had been instrumental in creating, had been a recipient of $377,800 in pass-through grants and monetary support approved by the city council. That money was used largely for staging cultural and art events or planning for incorporating arts or cultural elements into the city’s municipal revitalization efforts. Some of this was criticized as an unjustifiable giveaway of public money. After Botts was elected to the city council, he and his council colleagues continued to direct money toward the Alliance, often using redevelopment money to do so, in contravention of the recognized legitimate uses of redevelopment funding. The council committed to provide, in January 2007, $100,000 to revamp the façade of the Alliance headquarters building at 175 West Hays Street; $1,000 in March 2007 to the Alliance for its Youth Arts Council; $171,500 in August 2008 for a one-year contract with the Alliance to assist the city’s redevelopment agency, including $50,400 to stage special events, $41,500 for marketing, $16,500 for operating the Center for the Arts at 128 North San Gorgonio Avenue, $30,100 to operate a youth program, $18,000 to organize a downtown property-based improvement district and $15,000 for “overhead” expenses; $14,678.08 in February 2009 to the Alliance to make the restrooms at the group’s headquarters on Hays Street compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act; $131,500 in June 2009 provided to the Alliance to provide services to the redevelopment agency, including $63,550 for downtown promotional events, about 60 percent of which was for the salary of a coordinator; $14,500 for the Center for the Arts operations, roughly half of which was the salary of a manager; $32,550 for the operation of the Youth Arts Council, about 80 percent of which was the salary of a program director, $9,000 to organize the Banning Business Association, the entirely of which was spent on the salary of an executive director, and $11,900 for “overhead.”
Amidst charges that Botts was using his position on the city council to filter money to projects that benefited his cronies, the Riverside Grand Jury in its 2009-10 report focused on the city’s diversion of $806,503.08 to the Banning Cultural Alliance. The grand jury noted that “In 2007 the Banning Redevelopment Agency floated a bond issue that netted approximately $24 million to fund projects in the redevelopment area. The official statement listed three general categories of planned expenditures: revitalization of downtown, economic incentives and public improvements. Little specificity was included in the official statement. Investigation revealed that the redevelopment agency board had not formulated detailed, prioritized plans for the use of the proceeds.” Moreover, the grand jury stated, “investigation revealed that allegations of micro-managing have been leveled against members of the city council/redevelopment agency board. One of the programs of the redevelopment agency is called façade improvement. Property owners are given grants or forgivable loans to improve the exteriors of their buildings in the project area. It was found that the redevelopment agency board has committed funds for improving the appearance of vacant, unrented property while ongoing businesses are made to wait for assistance.”
The redevelopment agency board in Banning was the city council.
Further, according to the Riverside Grand Jury’s 2009-10 report, “An examination of the relationship between the Alliance and the redevelopment agency revealed a willingness by the board to fund the group without any measure of accountability, without measures of success or failure and without demands for return of funds not spent on contractual obligations. No other outside organization in Banning has been treated this way by the board of the redevelopment agency.”
Subsequently, the grand jury recommended that the Banning Cultural Alliance pay back to the city $162,000 plus interest for work the Alliance failed to carry out. Botts led the council in ignoring the grand jury recommendation.
Bott’s leadership of the Banning City Council and its redevelopment agency had an impact in a much larger venue. In 2011, the state legislature, citing abuses of the redevelopment process, closed out redevelopment agencies throughout the state with two pieces of legislation, AB X1 26 and AB X1 27. Among the abuses of redevelopment agency authority cited in justifying that closure was activity by the The Botts-led council/redevelopment agency governing board. While the purpose of redevelopment was to revitalize properties plagued by blight, in Banning the council essentially ignored the needs of the eastern portion of the city, where blight was rampant, while lavishing money on the city’s downtown area which in no way matched the classic or traditional definition of blight.
In October 2013, three days after Banning Police Chief Leonard Purvis on Saturday October 5 elected to go out on voluntary paid leave without any clear explanation for doing so, Botts, who was then mayor pro tem, participated in the October 8 regular council meeting, and roughly five minutes before it adjourned, tendered his previously unannounced resignation. Though there was speculation about a relationship between Botts’ action and Purvis’ departure, no clear nexus was ever demonstrated.
Only the murkiest of grounds were given for Botts’ resignation. At one point, those around him suggested Botts, who suffered a heart attack five years earlier in October 2008, was leaving for health reasons. When pressed, Botts said his decision was “personal.”
At some point over the last 53 months, Botts resurfaced in Redlands. Botts is a graduate of California State University – San Bernardino, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. According to statements of economic interest he filed with the City of Redlands, Botts has retirement accounts with Edward Jones Investments valued between $100,000 and $1 million and an interest in JB Roofing, headquartered at 123 S. “D” Street in San Bernardino, valued at over $1 million.
Together with Donn Grenda, who was appointed on the same day, Botts has joined with Julie Rynerson Rock, who used to head the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Division, Carol Dyer, Judith Battey, Stephen Frasher and Conrad Guzkowski on the planning commission.
Mark Gutglueck

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