Field Of 13 Candidates For Third District Supervisor Offer Perspectives

On Tuesday, the board of supervisors gave an audience to the 13 candidates they designated as the most qualified of the 48 applicants to replace their just-departed colleague James Ramos in representing the county’s Third District following Ramos’s election to the California Assembly last month. That public forum held in the supervisors’ meeting chambers allowed the 13 to expound upon their readiness to assume the office and to respond to questions those four board members had with regard to the hopefuls’ views on various issues facing the county and the Third District. Twelve of the thirteen have previously held or currently hold elective office. The thirteenth, Sean Flynn, has been a candidate for Congress.
The exchanges between the board and the candidates thus offered something of a colloquium or brainstorming session featuring public officials with scores of years of combined experience in local government in San Bernardino County. Questions provided to the applicants in a questionnaire as part of their application pertained to what they felt should be priorities in the district, budgetary and finance issues, what standards and restrictions should be applied in permitting utility-scale solar development to take place in the district, in particular its desert area, and uses to which the former Norton Air Force Base, now known as San Bernardino International Airport, might best be put.
Jan Leja in the 1990s was the mayor of Beaumont across the divide in Riverside County, was elected to the Assembly but resigned before actually taking office and is now the chairwoman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party and a district representative to Congressman Paul Cook. She said that there was great diversity in the Third District in terms of rural and urban areas, the mountains, the desert and the valley such that “there is that balance we have to identify between conservation and development.” She said there needed to be “give and take between developed property and open space.”
Dennis Hansberger, who was the Third District supervisor from 1972 until 1980 and again from 1996 until 2008, said the board should recognize that the vast majority of the county’s residents have an impression of the county that is determined by “county employees [who rather than the board members] deliver the services.” Thus, he said, it was important for the board members to pay close attention to the county’s line employees and “understand what they’re asking us to do to give them the power to do their jobs well.” The board should also, he said, “be out in the community [to] listen to how they [county residents] perceive what we’re doing and the county serves them.” He said the supervisors should look beyond their own districts, “making sure you get to know the problems of the other supervisors.”
The county should beef up and maintain its reserves, he said. “When business is good for the county, the public demand for services goes down,” Hansberger said. “When the economy is poor, the demand for service goes up. You’ve got to set aside money for those times when the economy is down, so you can continue the task that you’ve got to do and you don’t have to pull service out from under people simply because the money dried up because we spent it in the good times.”
Loma Linda Councilman Ronald Dailey said he perceived the “role of supervisor as one of policy development, budgeting and holding professional staff accountable to the policy decisions of the board.” He said the board should set the policy in place and allow staff to execute on those policy decisions unmolested. “My role would not be to micromanage or second guess the recommendations of professional staff,” he said. “Whatever elegant plans or strategic plans we can develop, it ultimately comes down to our ability to interact and trust each other as people. As we get into these tough issues, what is most important is not the plans and programs… but it is to be able to communicate effectively with people so they feel understood so that we would be able to achieve a nexus of understanding and move forward.”
Chris Mann, who was elected Mayor of Westlake Village in Los Angles County when he was 23, was Supervisor Josie Gonzales’s chief of staff for a time, owns his own public relations company, is a member of the Yucaipa Water Board and the founder of a taxpayers association, said, “One of the toughest challenges I see facing this board in the coming years is balancing the need to honor our staff and to provide the resources they need to do their jobs while at the same time being fiscally responsible.”
Mann said, “I think there’s a lot of opportunity at San Bernardino International Airport with technology. I think that is such a huge asset that we have right in our back yard but I think the focus for a long time had been in trying to attract passenger traffic, and I just don’t think that’s the future there. But I think there are a lot of other opportunities, and technology is one of those. That could be ground zero for a lot of drone technology along with cargo and maintenance.”
Citing as an example his experience as a probation officer shortly after he graduated from college and the frustration he felt over having to spend a significant amount of his time writing reports rather than counseling and monitoring his charges, Mann said, “Government can get in the way of the stated purpose and the best interests of the residents. There is a huge amount of paperwork [involved in government that detracts from employees actively addressing issues in the field]. Government needs to get back to not just protecting itself by implementing new forms but to the actual service for the people we represent.”
Carey Davis, the mayor of San Bernardino for the last four-and-a-half years whose major accomplishments were guiding the city out of the bankruptcy the city declared in 2012 and nudging the city’s residents to adopt a replacement municipal charter to the one that had been in place for 111 years, said, “There is need to increase the educational outcomes. The city of San Bernardino’s population over 25 only has approximately 67 percent that have a high school degree, and only about 10 percent that have a bachelor’s degree. I think it is a little higher in the Third District. In order to be able to meet some of those needs and reduce dependency on social services, there needs to be robust workforce training to be able to meet the demands of jobs and employers and to make sure [students] are continuing that as a lifelong learning exercise. As we see the environment in jobs today changing so rapidly, it’s important that it’s not just a one-time education event of a graduation but it’s an ongoing learning.”
Davis said, “We are in a situation right now where we are not sure where the economy is headed That’s why it was important to build a reserve but it’s also important for the the city to make sure they hold that reserve in abeyance so that it’s used appropriately, so it’s not looked at as a short term fix, it’s used as those long term needs arrive. One of those is pensions. That is one of the things the county is needing to look at. The 2016/2017 change in the financial statement that I was able to discover [shows] that during that time there was a $400 million increase, I believe, in the pension obligation debt for the county. Like the city, the county is going to need to make those necessary changes to sustain it through that period of time. The county is setting aside reserves, but those reserves may not be enough for some of those future costs especially if, as you see, the discount rate may be potentially reduced. Those are some of the common problems that my city had that I think the county is potentially facing.” The discount rate is a rebate on the amount a city or county pays to cover its pension costs if it delivers that money prior to the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
Davis said that with regard to the Santa Ana River, there is “the need to maintain that water habitat and at the same time capturing the water resource it provides.” To bypass the objections and opposition to the building of solar plants by residents in some desert communities, Davis suggested locating solar panel fields near or on active or shuttered landfills. “There may be some land potential use on those landfills to establish some solar sites,” he said. “I think there’s a way to provide an opportunity to where you can reduce the cost of energy expenditure for the county by potentially becoming one of those providers and adding into the grid. I don’t know how close those landfills are to some of those grids but that might be an opportunity to establish some of those solar sites where we already have control over the land and so it’s not something where we have to necessarily identify the space. The space is there. It would be a matter of identifying if the infrastructure could be produced … to make that transmission of that energy so it could be then a cost-effective approach.”
Jim Bagley, who was a signatory of the incorporation documents for the City of Twentynine Palms and a member of that city’s maiden city council and three times its appointed mayor, was also the president of the county’s transportation commission, president of the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission as an elected official and a member of that panel as a citizen representative. He said he was enthusiastic about creating community action plans which he said, “allow residents to achieve what their land planning vision is for their own community. I very much believe in this community action planning process. I believe the citizens are engaged in that process and they are defining whether or not they want large-scale solar utilities in the communities or they don’t. As somebody from a local government background, I think that input is absolutely essential. The mandate to create large-scale solar utilities in the desert is a greenhouse gas initiative. It’s come forward from President Obama and Governor Brown and it’s really being forced upon some of these communities, whether they want it or not. I believe you, as an elected official, have to represent the people who elect you, irregardless (sic) of whether it’s your own personal philosophy. I am very much aware of the strong organized opposition to large utility projects within the communities. I believe there is a place for them in the California desert and I believe that’s part of the planing process before the planing commission that comes before the supervisors but I also believe you must respect the community wishes of individual distinct communities when they say, ‘We do not want this in our neighborhood.’ I understand the reason. If you have a residence on five acres, and you move or live in the desert by choice because it is a quality of life issue, you give up certain things for that rural environment and if somebody comes in and builds a large-scale operation next to you it would totally change the quality of life for you forever.”
Loma Linda Mayor Rhodes Rigsby, a physician who is currently the executive director of home care services at Loma Linda University Medical Center and was formerly the chief medical officer there, said that he had traveled to Africa to attend a course while in medical school. “There are a lot of things that make some countries more functional than others,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with government. There are a lot of things that make countries dysfunctional and that has a lot to do with government as well.” He said that as the chief medical officer at Loma Linda University Medical Center he had found that he had no choice but to deny the requests of doctors when they requested things that were not cost effective. “It is not the most popular position to be in to tell somebody, ‘No.’” he said. He said that his “political philosophy [was built] around limited government. If government is going to do a job, it needs to manage itself correctly. It needs to use the principles of management that work in business. It needs to leverage its people as well as its technologies. It has to make sure it answers the needs of people who depend on government as well as the needs of people who support government. The best government is the government that governs the least because we have determined as the American people that there is a certain amount of collective the government should help us all with, but the government should only do what it does best and let everything else happen in the private sector. And when government is done doing what it does best, it stops, it doesn’t go any further, in my ideal world.”
Rigsby said there is a need to ensure that the county prevents external predatory medical service operators from interfering with the established hospitals in San Bernardino County dedicated to caring for local residents. “At the county level I see that there is a huge threat happening to us,” said Rigsby. “We are being poached by San Dego County, by Orange County and by Los Angeles County. There are a lot of specialty services that are being offered by those facilities in our county and it’s getting to the place where we are going to lose our specialty services in the Inland Empire if we don’t do something to ban together and make sure that we use our services and not export them to other counties. It could get to the place where the only thing left in the Inland Empire is primary care and then you have to go to another county to get specialty care. We need to figure out a way to deal with this external invasion. The health care industry has certain lines of business that are highly profitable and many lines of business that are loss leaders. If all you get is a loss leader as a hospital you can’t survive. You have to get some of the profitable business as well. When these external forces come in and they tend to cherry pick the ones that pay the best it results in a gutting of the services and then you can’t provide hospital services at all if you don’t get the good, more high-paying ones. All of that is because of distortions in the healthcare marketplace imposed by government. Government prices healthcare and there’s no free market in terms of the prices. It tends to be Medicare setting the prices for everybody and everyone else just follows along. That system systematically underpays for medical care and it systematically overpays for surgical care. If we don’t protect our provision of surgical care, we’ll be in trouble.”
Rigsby said, “There are a lot of disputes between moneyed interests and community tastes, community preferences. When that comes up, I like to imagine myself in the position of both of the people in that argument and try to make a judicious decision, but always be willing to do what is right. There are certain things that are required of us as government officials, to allow some progress to happen even if it might upset a few people. I’ve always been a little suspicious of nimbyism [i.e., resistance to having development next to one’s home or property] because if somebody says ‘I like that. I just don’t want it in my backyard,’ to me I tend to discount that because if you think it’s a good thing, then maybe your backyard is the best place for it. It’s a difficult situation. As far as development versus keeping things open, I’m a very strong believer in land ownership rights, but I also believe that a community has to put up with whatever you build, and you need to make something the community would be proud of, because they’re stuck with it for 150 years after you build it.”
Sometimes the best thing for government to do is not what the public wants done, said Rigsby. “When you look at what I do as a primary care physician in Loma Linda, I take people’s desires and I take their symptoms and I combine them into a plan of action that meets their needs, which is sometimes other than what they desired,” Rigsby said. “An interesting thing that physicians do all the time is talking people out of things that they want to do. Sometimes people come to me and they say ‘I want to do this,’ and I spend more time talking them out of things that they don’t need that they think they do. There’s a parallel in government. There’s an awful lot of what goes on in government that if people got what they wanted it would degrade the body politic. So there’s a place for someone who has the ability to say, ‘Here’s the situation. Let’s analyze it. Let’s do the tests that are necessary. Let’s measure. Let’s assess. Let’s come up with a corrective plan and let’s move forward. And there are also times when, as physicians, where prolonging life is no longer the goal. There are some times when someone has very painful cancer, when the goal becomes a good death. There is a parallel for that in government, as well. There’s a lot of programs that have eternal life that should not, that become deleterious to the body politic and need to be put on hospice and eliminated.”
Rigsby said government of the many often misses or fails to properly appreciate or adopt the best plan of action.
“One of the things that I have discovered in not-for-profit boards and in large organizations is that there is a tendency for large organizations to suppress genius in favor of consensus,” he said. “I think that is the biggest problem in any group decision-making process. The most votes tend to go to the most generic answers. The same thing happens in decision-making processes that are dominated by staff or by groups of people that vote up something and vote down something else. Sometimes a genius idea is thought of only by one person, and how do you get that to bubble to the top? There are solutions that are a lot more interesting than what the average person can come up with, and you’ve got to look for that.”
Sean Flynn, an economics professor at Scripps College in Claremont and a resident of Redlands, resurfaced elements of his campaign for Congress this year against incumbent 31st District Congressman Pete Aguilar. He cited “health care pricing. There’s so much that can be done, even at the local level, that would be innovative. There’s no reason we couldn’t for instance have price tags for all our local providers so that there can be comparison shopping, whether it is the county or private individuals.”
As an economist, Flynn said he was accustomed to “look at the world in terms of trade-offs. You can’t have everything you want and you have to make tough decisions about allocating resources. It is my assumption that in a county this big there’s got to be some places that are both environmentally stable where you can put large-scale utilities solar and in which the local community would not mind or would be very much in favor. It seems to me the political sweet spot here, if you want to think in terms of politics, is locating those areas where there could be enthusiastic support from local residents while meeting every state, federal and even our own, which can be higher, standards for environmental protection. We are of course blessed with unbelievably sunny weather in this part of the world. and solar power energy is the lowest cost energy generation. We’re a natural fit for generating electricity and not just using it here but perhaps exporting it to other states and exporting it throughout California. There is a great potential economic boon here but I do think it needs to be weighed against the environmental concerns and especially the needs of local residents.”
Dawn Rowe, currently a field representative for Congressman Paul Cook and a former Yucca Valley councilwoman, said she was “excited to hopefully see your planning commission’s recommendation of the renewable energy element [of the county’s general plan] through to fruition and all the work that’s gone on on that. I think for those of us in the High Desert that are concerned about the placement of renewables, that’s important and that would certainly be a top priority.” She then referenced “the unfortunate federal aspect of it; 80 percent of our land in this county is federal. How do we continue to work with the federal government, whether it is the pass through of funding or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes to ensure that the county has the revenue to offset the loss of some of the property taxes and the things that federal government land doesn’t afford us to have? I think the renewables would be the first thing we could pick up.”
Julie Hackbarth McIntyre, the mayor of Barstow and the operator of what has historically proven to be the most successful Del Taco fast food restaurant in the world, pointed out that through redistricting, Barstow, which was formerly part of the First District that covered almost the entirety of the Mojave District, now falls under the boundary of the Third District. This she said has left her part of “the Third District isolated from the First District. Sometimes our voices need to be louder,” she said. She said elected and high ranking officials need to “take the vision for the county to a higher level.”
Hackbarth-McIntyre said there should be a concentration on improving infrastructure and the water supply in the outlying areas of the Third District. She said her advice would be for officials to seek out the residents there and “sit down with them. I would look at what’s already in place [in terms of water systems and infrastructure], how we can build on that to deliver some of the projects that are already in the chute that are out in the Third District and bring that forward.” She said, “I think reclaiming water – purple pipe – is something that as a whole in San Bernardino County – I think in California – we’re going to have to figure out how to make that infrastructure work.”
Bill Jahn, who was a member of the Chino City Council from 1982 to 1986 and has been a member of the Big Bear City Council since 2004, lamented the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies. He acknowledged that there had been abuses of redevelopment authority but opined that those issues should have been redressed in some fashion other than the wholesale shuttering of the programs. He said that responsibly used, redevelopment had been a tool to improve communities. Its absence, he said, has contributed to California’s housing crisis. He said the county needs to find some workable replacement for redevelopment authority and perhaps forge a program with the state to obtain funding for more affordable housing. Jahn said the Third District should coordinate with the First District to improve the desert region’s transportation system.
Tobin Brinker, a junior high school teacher who was formerly a member of the San Bernardino City Council, was one of the few of those applying for the supervisorial position who maintained the candidate to serve out the last two years of Ramos’s term on the board should not use the appointment to perpetuate staying in office and use it for political advantage.
“I believe very strongly that the board today should select somebody who is a placeholder,” Brinker said. “I believe the voters of the 3rd District deserve that. They deserve a fair playing field in 2020 and if you decide today to choose someone who is planning to run, you’re giving that person a big leg up because they have the opportunity to say, ‘I’m the incumbent.’ They can go out and make all the acquaintances you need to make. They can raise the money. There’s a lot of things you can do when you’re in that seat. While I am certainly a person who has interest in future political position, I don’t see myself doing this beyond the two years. I would only serve for two years.”
In terms of the development of the Third District, Brinker said, the county should be both selective and farsighted in determining where development is to occur. “We should be looking at the areas where we want to see development, that we positively assert ‘This is where it should happen’ and we create some kind of streamlined process for development to happen in those areas, and then conversely create conservation focus areas where we say ‘These are areas where we don’t want to see development.’ There are areas that should be protected and maybe have a higher threshold for businesses that want to go into those areas. By doing that in advance we create clarity for the community and the business interests that are looking at these areas.”
Bill Emmerson, a dentist by profession who after 26 years in practice successfully ran for the California Assembly, served five years there and then successfully vied for the California Senate, resigning from that office after three years and went on to become a lobbyist, said a rail system in the High Desert is needed. He said the completion of the Redlands passenger rail system should be expedited as well.
He said San Bernardino County in general and the Third District in particular should work toward creating investment, industry and employment in the area of medical science and technology. “One of the things we can place more attention on is the high tech and the bio-tech field,” he said. “We have a number of educational institutions here in this region that can provide the kind of background and support for the bio-tech industries, and I think that is an important thing that would benefit this county.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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