By Mark Gutglueck
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, in the two oldest municipalities on the county’s west end public candidate forums featuring those vying in the Upland and Ontario 2018 municipal elections were held. In the case of Tuesday night’s Upland affair, put on by the city and held within the city’s council chambers at Upland City Hall, it carried the official imprimatur of the City of Gracious Living. Wednesday night’s event in Ontario was held at the historic Granada Theatre and was sponsored not by the city but rather by the Ontario Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It fell outside the category of official, as the three long time incumbents vying in this year’s Ontario municipal race did not participate. Whereas Upland’s forum held at the southeast corner of Euclid Avenue and Arrow Highway was well attended with a near-capacity crowd of more than 170 taking part or observing the proceedings, the event held 2.4 miles south on the northwest corner of Euclid Avenue and C Street the following evening was less impressively attended, with some 80 people in total on hand. Nevertheless, perhaps because the Ontario forum was held outside the auspices of officialdom, it made for what came across as a more genuine and far-reaching exchange of ideas on municipal authority and the issues that are now a part of the public dialogue about the direction in which local governance is moving. While both of the venues were civil and polite, and the formats followed a similar pattern, the Ontario candidates proved far more pointed in leveling criticism at the status quo and their incumbent rivals than had been the case between the candidates in Upland.
The Upland forum was moderated by former Upland Mayor Richard Anderson, who had served in the city’s top elective office from 1984 to 1988. Utilizing questions submitted by the audience that were screened by the team of Dr. Loren Sanchez and Dr. Timothy Worley, Anderson queried the candidates running in this year’s election, giving each of them as they sat at the council dais an opportunity to answer in a pattern that progressed left to right across the panel of candidates from the perspective of the audience, beginning at a randomly selected point in the seating arrangements. Those on the dais in order from left to right were Fourth District challenger Rudy Zuniga, Third District Challenger Ricky Felix, Fourth District Challenger Tammy Rapp, incumbent Councilman Gino Filippi running in the Third District, incumbent Councilwoman Carol Timm running in the Fourth District, Second District Challenger Yvette Walker, Third District Challenger Irmalinda Osuna and incumbent Councilwoman Janice Elliott running in the Second District. Sanchez, who was formerly the superintendent of the Upland Unified School District, and both Anderson and Worley qualify as members of the Upland establishment. Under their guidance the forum maintained a level of decorum that came at the expense of salient intensity, with the candidates inuslated from any type of invective. The most probing and provocative questions submitted by the attendees were not provided to Anderson, and thus not asked. The questions did explore some of the city’s current issues, though ones pertaining to sales tax and utility tax proposals, the current triple redundancy at the level of city manager, the city’s staffing levels, the mounting costs of pensions paid out to former city employees and the city’s dissolution last year of its more than a century-old municipal fire department in favor of moving the entirety of the city into a county fire service annexation zone did not pass muster with Sanchez and Worley, and thus did not come up as topics of discussion. The result essentially was a series of statements from the candidates that were rudimentarily informative with regard to the various incumbents’ and challengers’ positions on basic issues, from which could be extrapolated very little in major differences between them. The closest the forum stepped toward any level of controversy came with two questions, one pertaining to the city’s water division and service rates and the other focusing on the closure or reduction of city parks. Slight exceptions to the general pattern of agreement among the candidates emerged with the answers to the question about whether the candidates supported the city selling off park property. In March, a 3-to-1 majority of the city council did just that, selling 4.631 acres of 38.5-acre Memorial Park to San Antonio Hospital for $4.14 million. The hospital campus adjoins the park and the hospital’s management intends to utilize the property it is purchasing from the city to accommodate both a multistory parking garage and what it terms “future expansion opportunities.” That sale has not been completed, as legal action relating to the proposed sale has yet to clear the courts. Councilwoman Janice Elliott voted in opposition to the sale. Of the current incumbent candidates, Filippi and Timm supported the sale. The city in June gave consideration to trading 16 acres of property used primarily as soccer fields at Cabrillo Park on 11th Street to the Lewis Group of Companies in exchange for quarries now owned by Holliday Rock which Lewis was to purchase and turn over to the city for future park development. After considerable protest, including that spearheaded by Osuna, the city and Lewis backed off from making that swap. Subsequently, the city and Lewis pursued trading the same quarry property involved in the Cabrillo Park deal for property earmarked for park use in the Sycamore Hills district. Last month, just before that deal was to be closed at the September 24 council meeting, public protest again prevailed and the city and Lewis abandoned making that trade. With all of the other candidates inveighing against the city surrendering any park property, Filippi and Timm found themselves in the somewhat unenviable position of having to join in with their rivals in declaring they too would stand in the future against selling off or in any way whittling down the city’s existing parkland. Simultaneously, both sought to justify having consented to the sale of the 4.631 acres of Memorial Park to San Antonio Hospital, variously maintaining that the deal represented no actual loss of park land since the parking structure San Antonio is to build could be utilized by park visitors and that the money the city is to realize from the sale will eventually be used for park improvements.
Similarly, Timm and Filippi found themselves on the defensive when the question with regard to the city’s water system came up. Both had voted to raise the city’s water rates in a 4-to-1 vote, while Elliott had opposed the rate hike. City staff and the prevailing members of the council justified the increases based on the assertion that the city had a more than $1 million deficit in its water operations fund. In the same time frame, Elliott, who is a licensed certified public accountant, had examined the city’s books. Crunching the numbers available to her, Elliott concluded the city’s water fund, far from being $1 million in the hole, was actually flush with a nearly $10 million surplus. Confronted with the numbers, city officials were obliged to acknowledge that the situation was not as dire as had been represented when they stampeded city residents into a rate increase. Timm, in particular, who elsewhere during Tuesday night’s forum had asserted that the city had recovered financially during her now-approaching four-year tenure on the council, had difficulty squaring the need for the full range of the water increase vis-à-vis the water fund surplus and the city’s less-than-bleak financial outlook. In the discussion with regard to water, Zuniga made what was one of the most pointed criticisms of the city’s official representations when he observed that the assertion that the rate hike was in some measure justified because the city was running out of water rang hollow given that a portion of the city’s water supply was being sold to the Fontana Water Company. Throughout the one-hour and fifty-five-minute forum, Anderson managed to enforce a respectful and civil atmosphere, as he effectively discouraged both cheering and jeering, this tenor suffering only occasional lapses of decorum, as when the crowd reacted with laughter to some inadvertent turns of phrase or sardonic observations from some of the candidates. At only one point did the forum feature any direct disparagement among the candidates when after Timm had made a point of repeating the theme from her successful 2014 campaign, “It’s time for Timm,” Zuniga took the opportunity during his closing remarks to retort, “It’s time for Timm to leave.”
Some 22 hours after the Upland event concluded, the forum in Ontario took place. Whereas in the not so distant past there had been a degree of tension and contention on the Ontario City Council, of late there has been considerable cohesion on that panel. A little more than a decade ago, a falling out occurred between Mayor Paul Leon and two of the more strong-willed members of the city council, Alan Wapner and Jim Bowman. After one of Leon’s remaining two allies on the council, Jason Anderson, was supplanted by Debra Dorst-Porada in the 2008 election, Leon’s primacy as Ontario’s leader was compromised, given Dorst-Porada’s close affiliation with Bowman. In short order, the new ruling coalition of Wapner, Bowman and Dorst-Porada moved to politically neuter Leon, hiring a private investigator to surveil him and dig up dirt on him with which they were able to orchestrate a mini-scandal. Simultaneously, they stripped him of several internal and external governmental adjunct committee and joint powers authority assignments as well as the more than $30,000 per year add-on remuneration Ontario provided to its mayor above the standard stipend provided to all members of the city council. Leon managed to garner reelection as mayor in 2010 but remained a near-irrelevancy on the city council as Wapner headed up the ruling coalition that yet included Bowman and Dorst-Porada. In 2012, Paul Vincent Avila was elected to the council. A political iconoclast of the first magnitude, Avila was attitudinally incapable of maintaining a lasting affiliation with anyone. Moreover, his greatest talent appeared to lie in his ability to clash with all conceivable ends of the political spectrum on either side of him. Within a year of Avila’s election, Wapner’s hostility toward Leon shifted Avila, as did Bowman’s and therefore Dorst-Porada’s. In 2014, while the rapprochement between Leon and the Wapner council cabal was not entirely complete, that year’s election resulted in Leon, Wapner and Bowman uniformly touting the progress of the city under their collective leadership in their campaigns, virtually making them a political team as Leon found himself challenged by Avila, while Ruben Valencia, who was vying for a position on the city council, campaigned by aggressively assailing Wapner. Ultimately, Leon, Wapner and Bowman cruised to easy victories, after which the thaw in Leon’s relationship with his council colleagues, sans Avila, continued. In 2016, after Dorst-Porada was reelected to the council and Valencia displaced Avila, Wapner moved to more fully redress his once sundered relationship with Leon, persuading Bowman and Dorst-Porada to reinstate Leon’s mayoral remuneration package, adding $33,549 the $25,135 council stipend all members of the council draw together with the $24,683 in yearly benefits they receive, such that Leon now is provided with a total compensation package of $82,947 annually from the city, making him the highest paid general law city mayor in San Bernardino County. Over the last two years, the hard-edged political enmity that once existed between Wapner and Valencia has softened considerably, and the Ontario City Council now appears to be marching together, if not in absolute lockstep, in substantial harmony with one another. The three of its members up for election this year – Leon, Wapner, and Bowman – have been the recipients of campaign contributions which dwarf those of their challengers. As of September 22, Alan Wapner had received $243,839 since January 1 and had spent $256,541.80 on his 2018 campaign; Leon had received $130,891 in donations and had spent $149,578 since January 1; and Bowman had received $129,399 and had spent $120,054.50 since January 1. Enabled by the money they have to carry out electioneering efforts that include radio and television ads, newspaper ads, mailers and robo-calls to voters, signs and billboards, the three incumbents have spurned invitations to participate in public forums or debates that put them on the same platforms as their challengers, thus keeping their rivals from being seen in the same light or occupying the same stature that they do and simultaneously preventing themselves from engaging in a verbal slip up or other type of faux pas that might redound to their detriment or provide their competitors with campaign ammunition. Hanging together, Leon, Wapner and Bowman were no-shows at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s non-partisan forum at the Granada Theatre on October 3. Participating in that event were Sam Crowe, Rudy Favila and Richard Galvez, all of whom are seeking to displace Leon as mayor; and Paul Mim Mack and Josef Nikyar, who wish to unseat Bowman and/or Wapner. The forum was moderated by Professor John Meany of Claremont McKenna College, who initiated his first round of questions at the far left of the panel as the candidates faced the crowd, beginning with Crowe and moving to the right, giving each candidate an opportunity to respond. With each subsequent question, Meany initated the query one further seat to the right, but with each questioned reversed the direction left or right in which order the questions were answered.
Sam Crowe, who was a member of Ontario City Council from 1964 to 1972, was Ontario city attorney from 1988 to 1998 and has been on the Ontario-Montclair School Board since 2008, said in his opening remarks that he was committed to creating a code of ethics for the city “I believe if I am elected, I will be able to do that,” Crowe said.
Rudy Favila, who was on the city council from 1992 until 1996 and is now vying for mayor, said that more than 60 percent of the Ontario’s population was Latino but that the city’s ethnic makeup was not reflected at City Hall, where the employee lineage was more indicative of what would be expected “in Iowa than in Ontario.” He also said the city’s residents and its political leaders should “push staff to see a higher level of performance.” He said that while the average income in Ontario was in the range of $40,000, the city was overpaying its executive staff with salaries in the $300,000 and $400,000 ranges.
Richard Galvez, noting he was age 29, said he represented “forward thinking toward a new generation” and that he considered it his duty to “bring us into the future.”
Mim Mack said one side of his family had been in Ontario since the 1950s and that the other side of his family had been in Ontario since the 1960s. He said that once he was in office he would seek to impose “limits on campaign finance and elections by district, eliminate conflicts of interest and insist on greater accountability of what is going on at the airport.” He said that one of the incumbents in this year’s election, Alan Wapner, over $400,000 in his campaign war chest as of June 30.
Nikyar said the incumbents had been “robbing the city. I am not just talk. I have some document to prove it,” he said.
Crowe said that throughout his career he had demonstrated his dedication to public service going back for more than a half of a century, ranging “from practicing law to starting an opera and open air concert series to negotiating to bring the Ontario Mills into the City of Ontario in the 1990s. At that time, the city was basically broke. The Mills gave them more money than they know what to do with. I was on the airport commission and the city council in 1967. At that time we had two flights a day into Ontario, one from Las Vegas and one from San Francisco. We negotiated an agreement with Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport and we went from less than a thousand flights a year to 7 million passengers after Los Angeles forced the airlines to fly into and out of Ontario.”
Favila said he would effectively redeploy the city’s police resources. “People ask why I am so focused on crime,” he said. “I believe in putting cops on bikes and citizen participation in our own neighborhoods, in putting officers in our middle schools. We have kids who are taking target practice. They go to school and get jilted by a girlfriend or are bullied and then they bring a gun to school. That happened twice this year at schools in Ontario. I want to put officers in our middle schools.”
Galvez said his forward-looking would “bring a better tomorrow. Our greatest asset is the ability to communicate. I will try to understand. I will feel your pain. I believe as mayor I will serve the people, not myself. I will be a supervolunteer.”
Mim Mack said his strongest suit was ‘my honesty and integrity. I will tell you what I see when I see it and not in a sugar-coated way. I will end conflicts of interest and keep people from doing business with our city if they have made contributions to the mayor or city council. I will make sure no one on the council votes on anything where they have been influenced by money they received. Both of the incumbents [Wapner and Bowman] are retired and they are able to devote themselves full time to raising money and increasing their political capital.”
Nikyar said he had 55 years experience working with government as a contractor and he would “stop the theft and corruption.” He cited the example of the downtown park. “They paid $6 million for it. I could have made it for one million.” he said.
Favila said, “The fire department has a diversity problem. We have very little diversity in that department. Our children need to see people [in the role of firefighters] who look like them, so they will see working as a fireman as a career choice.” Favila suggested that firefighters were held in higher esteem than they deserved and were therefore provided with salaries they did not merit. He contrasted the educational requirements for being hired as a firefighter with those of being a teacher, and noted the discrepancy between what those employed in both professions earn. “To be a teacher you need a four-year degree and further education equal to or close to a master’s degree,” he said. “To be a firefighter you don’t need anything more than a high school diploma. A teacher makes $60,000 a year; firefighters make over $100,000.” Favila added that “We need police protection in our schools,” and said that traffic patrols are called for around schools during the morning in those areas where parents are dropping children off. “We can do this immediately,” he said.
Galvez said, “We should give the police the tools they need,” adding, “I have had many encounters with the police. I feel comfortable with the police. I know them. I make it a point to know them more. I think we need more outreach programs. I do not wish to criticize the police or fire department and put anybody down.”
Mim Mack said that if he is elected, the hiring of “the fire chief, the police chief, the planning director, the city manager will never again be discussed behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room. We need increased diversity in the fire department. I am in agreement with Mr. Favila on that.” Mim Mack said the city should look at “hiring more police as we have more people in our community.” He referenced the “broken window theory,” by which the deterioration of the city intensifies as problems go unaddressed. “I don’t know about you, but I have seen an uptick in graffiti,” said Mim Mack. “If we don’t take that down promptly, the longer we leave it, the more you encourage that kind of behavior.”
Favila said the police should be “out in the community as opposed to in their cars. We need to look at how we can maximize our resources. We need liaisons to schools and not necessarily have them in uniforms. We cannot hire enough police officers to stop every crime or even take reports about every crime. Together we can put neighborhood watch on every block and watch and report to the police and be on top of this ourselves until crime has been dissipated.
Crowe said, “Crime is always dependent on other causes. Look at the economic situation. When times are tough there is more crime. When there is less economic stress, there is less crime. Making a better society begins at the schools. Explaining to children what is right and what is wrong starts in kindergarten. The use of drugs has been a serious problem.”
Nikyar said, “We need to control the people who are bad and do the best we can.”
Galvez said “My father is a small business owner. We have had the office and cars broken into. It is apparent in our city that we have a crime problem As we grow, crime will happen We have to have collective action and people paying more attention to their surroundings.
Nikyar said he would eliminate the city’s code enforcement division, which he said was steeped in corruption, having, he said, “actually made people homeless. People have lost their homes over what they have done. One person even died from the stress of what they did to him.”
Crowe said the city could realize some efficiency and economies of scale in refining its mutual aid arrangement with nearby cities. “We have never had a study to determine what equipment it would be better to own and better to operate ourselves versus having access to that equipment. I don’t think there is a need for Upland and Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga to all have large ladder trucks. One would probably suffice for all three communities. We have no need to have large levels of certain things when there is this tremendous repetition and redundancy among all of the local cities. Police patrols south of Mission Boulevard should be increased by ten percent. Currently, the police and fire unions are donating $15,000 per incumbent at every election. If the incumbents take that kind of money from the unions, they shouldn’t be able to vote on raises for the police department or the fire department.”
Galvez said the city needed to match its codes to the standards the community’s members want. He cited the example of city ordinances which restricted the time and places where yard sales could take place, which he said conflicted with a tradition in some of the city’s neighborhoods which had previously held yard sales on the days now prohibited. “The people want yard sales to be allowed on those days,” Galvez said. “There’s no reason to prohibit what a large number of people want.”
Mim Mack said that with regard to the city’s codes “I want to see greater input from the planning commission. I want to give the planning commission more autonomy.” He likened the current planning commissioners to “bobble heads” who “rubberstamp everything put in front of them by the planning director. And who is telling the planning director what to do?” Mim Mack asked. “Alan Wapner, who has spent half of a million dollars in every election he has been in lately, money he has received from those whose projects the planning commission is rubberstamping. They do whatever Alan Wapner says, so his buddies can do whatever they want. We have 3,000 unit apartment complexes being built.”
Crowe advocated that whenever a subdivision entailing more than 100 units is proposed that the city be required to undertake a study to determine whether there is available water, schools and services for them. “All of these zoning increases are being done without any idea of what the problems are going to be from those developments,” he said.
Favila said positions on the planning commission should be held open for “independent members, people who are best qualified to make the decisions, not just the council members’ buddies. We can’t just pack houses on top of houses without some space in between them for people to enjoy their lives. With our housing development policy, we are pushing people out of the community. This is contributing to homelessness. People should be allowed to construct granny flats in their backyards so families can stay together.”
The bane of homelessness needs to be addressed, Mim Mack said, “at the regional, state and even national level.” An illustration of the problems inherent in dealing with the issue, Mim Mack said, was in the way in which Los Angeles offered assistance to large numbers of people, resulting in other homeless people flocking to the city for help. “The more services you provide, the more homeless they attract,” he said. “Hundreds more poured into Los Angeles. That is not an accident. I would like to see us work with local charities and churches to find solutions and get people back on their feet. I don’t think shelters will contribute to making people functional again.”
Nikyar said that if compassion is to be shown to the homeless, the services should not be provided near or in residential neighborhoods. “We should feed them far away and keep them away from where people live,” he said.
Crowe said that as a member of the school board, he had focused on students that were homeless. “It is a complex issue,” he said. “Once we have determined the numbers and studied who is homeless and why, perhaps we can do something. At the school district we took a one-room school house and made it into a transition house where women and children had a place to stay until we could incorporate them into the community.”
Favila said “Most of our people are one month away from losing their houses, whether they have a mortgage or are paying rent. Your relatives may say they love you but they are not going to provide for you. We need to have homes for those who are displaced until they can reconnect with the general society.”
Galvez said it was “hard to believe” that members of the community had “overlooked the homeless. These are our fellow Americans. They are not lost souls. We need more outreach programs.” At the same time that Ontario shows compassion for its homeless, Galvez said, it should not take up the burden of the homeless from elsewhere. “We should tell our neighboring cities they should take care of their homeless and we will take care of ours.”
All of those involved in the forum said they believed Ontario should have term limits for its office holders.
Nikyar said it was unconscionable to allow those “who are robbing the city” to remain in office. “I absolutely believe in a two term limit,” he said.
Crowe said the voters should be provided with the opportunity to make a decision on term limits, but that he personally believed a two-term, eight-year total limit was best. “I am familiar with the argument that good people will be replaced by this but I believe we need term limits,” he said.
Favila said “We are going to double our population soon now that we are fifty square miles and building in the ag[ricultural] preserve. Term limits are good for the city. We should become a charter city. We should have a seven member council with a full time mayor and six council members, with three terms for the mayor and three terms for the council.”
Noting once more that he is “29 years old,” Galvez said, “Alan Wapner has been on the city council 24 years. I am trying to wrap my head around that.” He said the city has remained suspended in time with the sclerotic and doddering Wapner and Bowman calling the shots. “We will soon be in a way different place,” he said, when new blood replaces the geriatric set on the council. “The city will move forward. I hope to be able to serve [on the council] and after my term move forward to hold other positions and become governor,” he said.
Mim Mack said, “I think term limits are essential. I am in agreement with Mr. Crowe. I think it should be presented as a ballot initiative. When Alan Wapner was first elected, I was in junior high school. We should have campaign contribution limits in addition to term limits. The members of the board of supervisors are limited to something around $4,000 from each donor. It should be the same in our city.”
Favila said “Transparency will eliminate the fraud, corruption and mismanagement. We should have the participation of a citizen advisory board in every department. We need citizens who will ask the questions about why some residents are treated differently than others.”
Crowe said most people don’t participate in the political and governmental processes “because we don’t have full disclosure. If people knew what I know about the way the airport is being run, they would be asking questions about why we are spending much more money than we need to on things we have very little use for. Once people are informed they will step up and do the job.”
Nikyar said he was prepared to use his own money to combat apathy and ignorance. “I will spend $160,000 to bring meals to people,” he said. “I will go to one section of the community at a time. I will serve them coffee and donuts and hold meetings and listen to what they tell me. If they tell me what they want me to do for them, I will do what they tell me. I will meet with a different set of people every week.”
Mim Mack said he looked forward to setting up a district- based voting system. “I would also like to open up City Hall,” he said. “They have put up barriers there so you are not able to get near the council or the city manager. As a kid, I remember going to the city manager’s office with my farther and grandfather. Those barriers need to come down. People need to be able to meet with them.” Mim Mack further railed against the city council putting significant items of importance on the consent calendar at the council meetings so that they were not discussed before they are voted upon.