By Mark Gutglueck
After a series of missteps and two of its four members having balked earlier that day at doing so, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday replaced their recently departed colleague James Ramos with former Yucca Valley Town Councilwoman Dawn Rowe.
The board’s action cements the Republican vice-lock on county government, as Rowe, a registered Republican, moves into the void that was created when Ramos, a Democrat, departed the board on December 3, simultaneous with his taking the oath of office as Assemblyman on December 3. Ramos was originally elected as Third District supervisor, representing Barstow, Big Bear, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, Yucaipa, Redlands, Highland, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace, the eastern portion of the City of San Bernardino, a sliver of Colton and 24 disparate unincorporated county areas, in 2012 and reelected in 2016. Last month, in the general election held in conjunction with California’s gubernatorial race, Ramos outdistanced his Republican rival, San Bernardino City Councilman Henry Nickel, for the 40th District Assembly position. Rowe was chosen to fill out the two years remaining on the supervisor’s term to which he was reelected two years ago.
Prior to his departure to Sacramento, Ramos made clear that his choice to succeed him was Chris Carrillo, a fellow Democrat who had served as his deputy chief of staff from 2012 to 2014 and who returned to that position earlier this year as preparation for what both men hoped would be a final grooming for Carrillo before his move into the Third District post. And though county elected offices are by California law considered to be nonpartisan, in fact in San Bernardino County, party affiliation has been for decades a major deciding factor in who holds those positions. Beginning in the 1960s, San Bernardino County has been a Republican stronghold. From 1966 until 2009, Republicans held a plurality in terms of the numbers of registered voters in the county. In 2009, the number of registered Democrats eclipsed the number of registered Republicans throughout San Bernardino County. Nevertheless, Republicans continued to consistently outperform Democrats at the polls in the county, with the GOP equaling or surpassing the Democrats in terms of the numbers of office holders in the state legislature and in Congress. This year, however, with Ramos’s victory over Nickel, a Democrat displaced the Republican 40th District Assemblyman, Marc Steinorth, who left the Assembly after serving just two terms to make what turned out to be an unsuccessful run for Second District San Bernardino County Supervisor in June. Thus, of the nine Assembly members representing San Bernardino County at present, five are Republicans and four are Democrats, an uncomfortable margin for the GOP. Republicans yet hold four of the six California State Senate offices representing San Bernardino County. However, in the U.S. House of Representatives, four of the county’s five Congressional representatives will be Democrats when the 116th Congress convenes on January 3, 2019. In California Congressional District 39, which includes northeastern Orange County, southeastern Los Angeles County and southwestern San Bernardino County, Republican Ed Royce who had long been the U.S. Representative there, opted to retire. In an extremely close race to replace him, the Democratic standard bearer, Gil Cisneros, edged out the Republican candidate, Young Kim. Cisneros was a Republican until 2008, but left the party because he felt it had become “too ideological.” His current standing as a Democrat leaves San Bernardino County with but a single Republican representative in Congress, Paul Cook.
Despite the lapsing of Republican control over federal offices in San Bernardino County, the Party of Lincoln yet remains in ascendancy in terms of local political offices. In seventeen of the county’s 24 municipalities, Republicans outnumber Democrats on city and town councils. On the board of supervisors, prior to Ramos’s departure, three of that panel’s five members – First District Supervisor and Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Robert Lovingood, Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford and Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman – are Republicans. Like Ramos, Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales is a Democrat.
The county charter empowers the board of supervisors to make an appointment to fill any vacancy that comes about on the board of supervisors, requiring that the individual chosen be a resident of the district to be represented and that the appointment be made within 30 days of the vacancy. The county charter has no provision for the vacancy to be filled through a special election. If the appointment is not made within the 30-day deadline, the power of appointment rests with the governor.
On December 3, James Ramos was sworn into office in Sacramento. By previous arrangement, his resignation as supervisor was to be effectuated simultaneous with his assumption of the assembly position. Thus, the board of supervisors had until January 2 to make an appointment or by default surrender the appointment to the discretion of outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown or incoming Governor Gavin Newsom, who is to be inaugurated on January 7. Both Brown and Newsom are Democrats.
Though the November 6 election was not certified by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters until early this month, by the time all of the precincts had reported early November 7 and the only outstanding votes to be counted were from late-arriving mail-in and provisional ballots, Ramos’s lead over Nickel was substantial enough that there was no doubt as to the eventual outcome. Consequently, the members of the board began casting about to create a process by which to choose Ramos’s successor. Almost immediately it became apparent to Ramos that his three Republican colleagues on the board were not likely to honor his preference to be succeeded by Carrillo, but were leaning heavily toward filling the post with a member of their own party. This led to something of a falling out between Ramos and Lovingood, the board chairman at that point. According to individuals in a position to know, harsh and loud words were exchanged between the two men on the fifth floor of the county’s administrative building at 325 North Arrowhead Avenue in Downtown San Bernardino. Described as a brief shouting match, the contretemps was an awkward and unfortunate end to what had been for some six years a cordial and cooperative relationship that began when both were first elected to the board of supervisors in 2012.
The board invited District Three residents to apply for the post, resulting in 48 coming forward. Based upon the responses 43 of those made to a questionnaire accompanying the applications along with their curricula vitae and/or resumes, each of the board members voted behind closed doors by means of each casting votes to demark their ten top choices. Those candidates receiving two or more votes passed muster. In this way the field was reduced to 13: former San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Dennis L. Hansberger, San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Janice Leja, Loma Linda City Councilman Ronald Dailey, Former San Bernardino County Fifth District Chief of Staff and Inland Empire Taxpayers Association Founder Chris Mann, San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, former Twentynine Palms Mayor Jim Bagley, Loma Linda Mayor Rhodes Rigsby, two-time Congressional candidate Sean Flynn, Barstow Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre; current Big Bear Councilman/former Chino Councilman William Jahn; current field representative to Republican Congressman Paul Cook/former Yucca Valley Councilwoman Dawn Rowe, former San Bernardino City Councilman Tobin Brinker, former Republican Assemblyman/State Senator Bill Emmerson.
Conspicuous by his absence from the list was Carrillo. An attorney, Ramos’s former and then-current deputy chief of staff who was up-to-date with regard to the issues facing the Third District, a long-time field representative for Senator Dianne Feinstein and an elected official in his own right as a board member of the East Valley Water District, Carrillo was flawed by the consideration that he was a Democrat. The board’s plan was to hold a public forum during which each of the candidates would be allowed to make a short presentation and field questions from the board. Having received only one vote, Carrillo was not provided with an opportunity to participate. Five of the 48 expressing interest in the position had failed to complete all aspects of the application and were therefore rejected outright; thus, a total of 30, including Carrillo, were counted out of consideration without an interview. Twelve of those were Democrats. Of the thirteen who made it to the second round of the selection process, just one, Daily, was a Democrat. Ten were currently registered Republicans. Brinker and Emmerson were unaffiliated with any political party. In the case of Emmerson, who had been a Republican for nearly the entirety of adult life and a Republican during his terms in office as an assemblyman and state senator, he reregistered with no party preference because since leaving the legislature five years ago he had reinvented himself as a lobbyist and in dealing with legislators who are predominantly Democrats had found it to be in his professional interest to have severed his Republican ties.
The thirteen semi-finalists were invited to a forum before the board of supervisors in a specially-called session on Tuesday December 11. In the public comment session before the supervisors had their interaction with the candidates, Ruth Musser-Lopez, a member of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee and an unsuccessful candidate for State Senate in the 16th District in November asserted that there were flaws in the way in which the selection process was being conducted. Most pointedly, she charged that in reducing the field of 48 to 13 the board had polled themselves and voted in secret, which she alleged was a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which prohibits elected officials from discussing or voting upon official public matters in anything other than than a public forum unless the issues dealt with are expressly related to public employee hiring, discipline or termination; pending or ongoing litigation; or negotiations for real estate transactions or employee contract negotiations. The board initially disregarded Musser-Lopez, carrying out over a nearly five hour session that morning and into the afternoon interviews and exchanges with the 13 candidates, thereafter eliminating seven of the candidates and conducting public polling amongst themselves in which Lovingood endorsed Sean Flynn, William Jahn, Janice Leja, Rhodes Rigsby and Dawn Rowe; Rutherford voted for William Emmerson, Flynn, Jahn, Rigsby, and Rowe; Hagman selected Emmerson, Flynn, Chris Mann, Rigsby and Rowe; and Gonzales favored Jim Bagley, Ron Daily, Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre, William Jahn and Rowe. With the threshold being that to advance a candidate needed to log two votes, Emmerson, Flynn, Jahn, Rigsby and Rowe qualified as finalists with Rowe scoring four votes; Rigsby, Flynn and Jahn bagging three votes and Emmerson claiming two in the District Three Supervisor sweepstakes. The board then scheduled another specially-called meeting for December 13, at which it was intimated one of the five would be selected to serve the next two years as Ramos’s replacement.
The evening of December 11, however, Musser-Lopez, reiterated her objections in writing, labeling it a “complaint.” In the letter, sent to the supervisors and the office of county counsel through the clerk of the board, she asserted, “On December 10-11, 2018, you the members of the county board of supervisors in concert and individually violated the Ralph M. Brown Act specifically CA Gov. Code, § 54953.5 when you did cast preliminary votes secretly, without a process agreed upon by the public and without publicly disclosing the votes of the individual supervisors to the public.” She said that “the public was left out of the selection process, some applicants were not invited to address the board and were not allowed equal time, and due to the illegal polling, board members knew which applicants were ‘winning’ prior to their vote.” Musser-Lopez said this led to the board members “knowing in advance which applicants were preferred by the other members” and “wrongfully influencing their vote without public knowledge or intervention,” such that “a majority of the board” had been able to illegally “develop a collective concurrence as to action to be taken” and had furthermore engaged in private communications with one another through the use of secret ballots that were tantamount to a “serial meeting,” which is also outlawed by the Brown Act.
Musser-Lopez demanded that the board of supervisors cure the violation by voiding the December 11 vote and voiding “any other serial votes by members of the board of supervisors on December 10 and 11, 2018 and that to be voted on December 13, 2018 pertaining to the selection of a replacement supervisor for the 3rd District.” She called upon the board of supervisors to “cure and correct” the prohibited acts by providing “an opportunity for all applicants to be invited to give a speech and allowed the same amount of time provided the unlawful slate of 13 candidates that were improperly selected by serial voting and secret ballots on December 10, 2018.”
Somewhere within her three-page letter, Musser-Lopez hit a nerve. When the board convened the morning of December 13, the proceedings lasted a mere 58 seconds and were gaveled to a close by Board Chairman Lovingood, after County Counsel Michelle Blakemore, the county’s top in-house attorney, referenced the Brown Act violation accusations and said, “Our recommendation is that the board take absolutely no action today and that the meeting be adjourned and we will bring an item back on Tuesday for consideration.”
Percolating over the weekend were the issues Musser-Lopez had raised as well as her further public utterances to the effect that the board was limiting its candidates to the white, affluent and Republican country club set, while excluding a large swath of the Third District’s unrepresented masses. Simultaneously, the board majority had not abandoned its determination to ensure that the Republican establishment maintains its primacy within San Bernardino County’s government structure. Chastened by the events of the preceding few days, they resolved to make certain that the selection process would meet all legal requirements and prevent any further challenges that would conceivably remove the Third District supervisor replacement process to the governor’s office.
Further discussion and possible action on the appointment was scheduled as the final item on the agenda for the regularly scheduled meeting this week on Tuesday December 18. After moving through all of the previous items on the agenda, the board took up the reconsideration of the appointment.
In partial deference to Musser-Lopez’s complaint and demands, the board rescinded the action it had taken on December 11, theoretically reopening the field of candidates to include not just the five or 13, but potentially all 43 who returned fully completed applications, all 48 who had taken out applications or anyone of the age of majority living within the Third District who was registered to vote.
Before taking that action, Board Chairman Lovingood offered his version of what he and his colleagues had done and an explanation of what they were purposed to do.
“When the board of supervisors started this process, it took great lengths to ensure an open process by having ads placed in multiple newspapers soliciting to fill the vacancy,” Lovingood said. “We went far and wide to make sure this would be known. At the close of the application period, fifty-two had expressed interest in the position, of which 48 were actually qualified as electors. As a supplement, response to materials for response to questions garnered a reply by 43 of the original applicants. The supervisors chose to interview 13 and established a list of five finalists. Following written and email correspondence received on the 12th and the 13th challenging the process undertaken by the board it is recommended we establish the interview list of 13 and the final list of five be rescinded and the process amended for the selection of the Third District member of the board. The recommended actions will cure and correct any alleged procedural errors and afford the board an opportunity at this meeting to move forward in the discussion process.”
Among those who spoke during public comments was one of the applicants, Treasure Ortiz.
“I’m extremely disappointed in how this was conducted,” said Ortiz. “I super agree with you. You guys outreached to the community for the applicants to apply. But in that, you decided not to put forth a process that was completely transparent, and you knew it. You continued with it. Counsel told you not to set criteria, but you did it anyways. You didn’t tell us what it was. You just called the clerk of the board and told her who you wanted. You ought to rectify it, but you’re breaking, in the midst of breaking the law. You are bound by an act. So to say, ‘Mea culpa. We’re sorry. Now we’re going to wipe this clean” – You need to go above and beyond that. You have a responsibility to the 400,000 people in this district who voted for James Ramos, who voted for an agenda and now want to see that is adhered to. Everybody who applied needs to be publicly shown to the voters. It affects your district. It affects our district. To do anything less is disrespectful. It’s wrong. We come here today to do our civic duty, to be a part of the process, and to be denied that, myself or anybody… We have large shoes to fill. We have to make sure that we stand by what people are asking of us, without a vote. This is the worst case of taking away democracy from people and then shoving it in their face and saying ‘We’re going to make jokes. Give me resumes and I’ll vet through.’ Well that’s exactly what you did. After it hadn’t been asked specifically, ‘How do we fill this vacancy if Ramos were to vacate?’ nobody wanted to talk about that but then days later you appoint a field rep to be a point of contact without any public discussion. We submitted, letters, resumes and answers to questions that you guys asked for but never made available to the public. This is supposed to be open. I ask that you today interview everybody. This should be a long and arduous task. This should take days because this is a big, big decision on behalf of people you don’t represent.”
Several speakers said they were in favor of Carrillo.
Supervisor Curt Hagman said, “I understand we’re pretty much starting over. I’d like to put two or three names in a hat right now, each from the total list and then if you want follow up questions we can. If we don’t, we can make a motion, whatever the case may be.”
Supervisor Janice Rutherford endorsed Hagman’s suggest. “We’ve all done a thorough review of all 43 applications, including people that we’ve interviewed, all of the reading we’ve done and the background work that each of us and our staffs did individually. I would be prepared to offer a handful of names also. Then we could decide to further question if we have questions or move on today.”
Supervisor Gonzales said, “I realize this is the final opportunity to ask some tough questions. If there were an election, candidates would be asked questions about their positions on various issues. They would be asked questions about their voting record. Residents would have time to learn about each candidate’s background and their political affiliations, priorities, goals and all those kinds of things. There would be time for all of that. In the absence of a campaign, I believe I owe it to the residents to ask difficult questions and I would like that opportunity and I have stated this to my colleagues already, so there may be an opportunity for the residents to hear honest answers and have those answers be on the record before we make a selection.”
Gonzales indicated she “wanted to go in a different direction” from what had occurred, that is, having interviews with a subset of the candidates who applied. She would have preferred, she said, “to have interviews with each and every candidate, as you all know. I want you to know I love our government structure and that when the majority of my colleagues voted against me, I honor that. We all have to honor that. I think it’s important. There’s value to adhering to a process. I want to be able today to look at all of the applicants and be able to say ‘This is an open process. I am considering each and every one.’” Gonzales said she recognized the others were intent on moving forward with the nominations of just two or three names each and had resigned herself to that.
Asserting “moving forward today is our responsibility” and that he had like the other members of the board thoroughly considered the merits of the candidates based on their submissions while resisting being lobbied, Lovingood said, “At this time, unless there is some other preference, I am prepared to make a motion.” Pausing briefly, he said, “I make a motion to nominate Dawn Rowe as the replacement for the Third District.” Rutherford seconded the motion. Without a voice vote being audible, Lovingood indicated that the support for Rowe was 2-to-2, which was insufficient to approve Rowe’s appointment.
Lovingood then sought to proceed with Hagman’s call for each of the board members to nominate three candidates each. Gonzales asked that before any vote was taken on those to be nominated that a round of questioning of those nominated take place. The board members at Lovingood’s motion and Hagman’s second then submitted three names each. Lovingood nominated Bill Jahn, Dawn Rowe and Rhodes Rigsby; Supervisor Rutherford nominated Dawn Rowe, Sean Flynn and Bill Emmerson; Supervisor Hagman nominated Bill Jahn, Dawn Rowe and Sean Flynn; and Supervisor Gonzales nominated Bill Jahn, Dawn Rowe and Chris Carrillo. All of those nominated were invited forward to respond to questions. Because Carrillo had not been interviewed last week, he was permitted to introduce himself and give an overview of his experience. For the most part, the questioning of Carrillo, Jahn, Rigsby, and Flynn was polite and extended to the issues of their experience and expertise, covering the same issues they had spoken to in their interview on December 11. Emmerson, a dentist by profession, and Rigsby, a physician, were asked about a recent court ruling that called into question whether the Affordable Care Act will remain in place. Gonzales asked Emmerson a pointed question about his decision in 2013 to resign from the California State Senate and a statement he made to the effect that he had lost his passion for his work and his interest in politics had waned. “What would you say to the constituents of the Third District today, some of which are in your former senate district, to convince them that you have found your passion once again for public service?” Gonzales probed.
“The temperament and the temperature of Sacramento is incredibly partisan,” Emmerson said. “It became very difficult to work in that system, and I lost my passion because of that. This is a different situation that we can all work together in a collaborative manner.”
Gonzales was similarly aggressive in her exchange with Rowe.
“You currently work for Congressman Paul Cook,” Gonzales began. “Congressman Cook is and has been a long time friend of mine and San Bernardino County. He has carried bills for us both at the state level and at the federal level in Congress. Many of the issues we face here at the county have to do with politics imposed on us by state and in this case federal government. There are many congressmen we don’t always see eye-to-eye with and I dare say we don’t always see eye-to-eye with Congressman Cook. If appointed to the Third District supervisorial seat, how would you demonstrate that you will act independent of Congressman Cook? How would you assure the residents of the Third District that you would fight for what’s in their best interest even if it might be contrary to what the federal government has as policy or Congressman Cook’s position? Will there be, in other words, strings attached?”
Rowe said, “No, bluntly. If you know Congressman Cook – I’ve worked for him for ten years – You have to have a backbone to be in the job we have, and I have no problem clearly stating my opinion and thoughts to anyone, to include Congressman Cook.” She cited the example of her differences with Cook, who is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, with regard to the clash between the Marine Corps and off-road enthusiasts over restrictions on the use of the desert expanse stretching into Johnson Valley, which the Marine Corps uses for training purposes. As an off-road enthusiast herself, Rowe said she stood her ground with Cook in reminding him that as a congressman he is a representative of the people of the 8th Congressional District and not the Marine Corps and that he needed to be sensitive to his constituents’ needs. She said a compromise was worked out with regard to recreational access in a major swath of Johnson Valley as a result.
She further asserted that her conservative Republic leanings would not interfere with her service to her constituents. “I have a party registration but on this non-partisan seat I bring with me certain ideologies but more of an open mind,” she said. “My party and my affiliations are insignificant when it comes to fighting for what is right for this county.”
Rowe told the board that if she were chosen as Ramos’s replacement, “I would be accessible. I think it is important to have accessibility to our constituents, to you as a board, to the staff members, to the county employees and various departments within the county.” She said she would “put my brainpower to the different challenges we face in the county” and that she would use “creativity perseverance and tenacity” to benefit the Third District along with the “ability to communicate effectively with an open mind.”
She said she is able to sugarcoat the bitter pill of government.
“One of the things I have learned in my time in working with the public is to have empathy for them,” she said. “It is very difficult sometimes to tell a person, ‘No.’ But if you can communicate it effectively and with empathy it’s better received and people understand it.”
Rowe made a favorable impression with Gonzales, who told her “You’ve done an extraordinary job of coming out of the woodwork. You were one of the surprises I was looking for. And I think it commends the years of dedication that you’ve invested.”
Rowe was the last of the six candidates interviewed on Tuesday. Immediately after her exchange with the board, without entering into any discussion with regard to the relative merits of the applicants, Lovingood made a motion to appoint her to the Third District supervisors post. Again, Rutherford seconded the motion. When Hagman immediately voted in favor of the motion, the outcome was obvious and Gonzales voted to make Rowe’s appointment unanimous.
A Southern California native, Rowe was married to a Marine captain, Alan Rowe, with whom she had a son and a daughter. They had lived at various Marine and Naval installations and established a residence in Yucca Valley when her husband had been stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. On September 3, 2004, her husband was on his second deployment back to Iraq when he was killed in action while securing a bridge in Anbar province. She decided to remain in Yucca Valley and raise her children there. It was in seeking to make a way for herself and her children, she said, that she ventured into politics.
“I got involved in subdividing property and became frustrated with the process,” she said. “I went to who was then my mayor, Chad Mayes, and didn’t know anything about politics or anything else and he appointed me to the planning commission and said, ‘If you want to make a difference, this is how you do it.’ And then I was defeated with some of my projects at the council level and decided if I wanted to really make a difference I needed to run to implement those changes, specifically in land use. Then, at some point along the way I met Paul Cook and went to work for him as a field rep.”
Rowe is a creature of what many refer to as the “Yucca Valley Theocracy.” The two most influential political entities in the Town of Yucca Valley are the 3,500-member Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel with its senior pastor, Jarel Hagerman, and the smaller Grace Community Church with its pastor, Roger Mayes. Both Hagerman and Mayes have tremendous influence over their respective congregations, at the very least swaying elections if not outright controlling the political tempo of the town. Jarel Hagerman’s son, Isaac, was elected to the town council, rising to the position of mayor pro tem, serving along with Rowe and Chad Mayes. Roger Mayes is Chad Mayes’ father. Roger Mayes is himself an elected official, serving on the Hi Desert Water District. Together Jarel Hagerman and Roger Mayes, who share similar conservative Republican political ideologies, are credited with being able to dependably deliver upwards of 2,500 votes to the candidates they endorse in the town’s municipal elections. Yucca Valley has roughly 11,400 registered voters. Typically, 5,500 to 6,000 voters turn out to vote in November elections held in presidential election years in Yucca Valley and 3,800 to 4,200 in gubernatorial election years. Dawn Rowe is a Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel congregant and was supported by both Hagerman and Mayes in her election to the town council.
The Yucca Valley Theocracy has supported Paul Cook, who is neither a parishoner of Joshua Springs Chapel nor Grace Community Church but rather a Catholic who attends Mass, when he is in Yucca Valley, at St. Mary of the Valley. Cook’s political philosophy over the years aligned itself in most particulars with that espoused by Hagerman and Mayes.
That political philosophy has had practical consequences for Yucca Valley.
The town is one of two of San Bernardino County’s municipalities without a sewer system, relying entirely upon septic systems. In 2001, Yucca Valley town officials were notified by the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board that the lack of a sewage treatment system in the town had resulted in nitrates accumulating in the water table underlying Yucca Valley. Simultaneously, the Hi-Desert Water District, which serves the Yucca Valley community, experienced nitrate traces in district wells. Because of the expense of constructing such a system, local officialdom did not respond with alacrity to the warning. State officials grew increasingly more and more firm in suggesting and then telling Yucca Valley town and Hi-Desert Water District officials that the water contamination issue needed to be addressed, at last issuing a compliance order that the town begin construction on a sewer system such that the first phase of a three-phase wastewater system was to be be completed or significantly on its way to completion by May 19, 2016 or enforcement action would be initiated. This was met by a community-wide outcry against “unfunded mandates” being imposed by liberal bureaucrats in Democratic-dominated Sacramento. The Yucca Valley Theocracy and Cook, while he was yet in the Assembly and later in Congress, were major purveyors of rhetoric being consumed at the local level in Yucca Valley suggesting that the state was engaged in impermissible government overreach and that the water contamination abatement orders were unlawful and unconstitutional meddling by outsiders that would not be enforceable.
In 2012, Yucca Valley voters, yet under the sway of Mayes and Hagerman’s vision of their town as a bastion of right-thinking fundamentalist Christian conservatives holding the line against the encroachment of secular liberalism, rejected Measure U, which if passed would have imposed a one-cent sales tax within Yucca Valley, the lion’s share of the proceeds from which would have, town officials said, gone toward building the sewer system.
It was only when it became clear that the state was determined to use draconian measures to obtain compliance, by either methodically moving to seal off every septic system in use within Yucca Valley, essentially rendering the affected homes inhabitable, or to otherwise utilize an enforcement action done in a lottery fashion in which random property owners who did not discontinue the discharge from their septic systems and seal them off would be selected to receive cease and desist orders with the potential of daily fines of up to $5,000 per day for non-compliance, that local officials got off top dead center and provisions were made to bring the town into accord with state standards.
In 2014, Chad Mayes, Roger Mayes’ son, vied successfully for 42nd District Assemblyman. In Sacramento, young Mayes was given a strong dose of political and practical reality. While the exact nature of his private conversations with his father are unknown, on his trips back to his district from the state capital he was apparently able to convince the Reverend Mayes, a board member with the Hi-Desert Water District, that people in Yucca Valley cannot continue to micturate and defecate in their drinking water supply, that continuing to insist they can do just that is a threat to not only the community’s health but its reputation statewide and that the rural standards of public hygiene that were applied in a remote desert location in the middle of the Twentieth Century will not suffice as that community urbanizes in the Twenty-First Century.
In 2015, Roger Mayes did not oppose an effort to form an assessment district to build the town’s sewer system. By a significant margin, Yucca Valley voters passed the measure, which was conducted by mail ballot voting.
On the May 13, 2015 deadline for the return of the ballots, 5,488 of the 10,326 ballots mailed out had been returned. Of those 5,488 ballots received, 4,942 were deemed valid, with 546 being rejected because the ballots were improperly filled out.
The tallying of the ballots was not based upon the simple number of votes for or against approving the sewer system assessments. Rather, each of the ballots was accorded weight based on the proposed assessment value of the property owned by the voter. Under this measure, 72 percent of those responding, representing $49.1 million in estimated property value, favored the levying of the assessments, while 28 percent, speaking for $18.9 million in property value, voted against the formation of the district.
The community’s relatively late resolve to fund the sewer system project left it somewhat behind the eight ball in terms of whether it would be able to meet the first May 2016 deadline.
The State Water Resources Control Board, examining the reality of the situation, concluded that the Hi-Desert Water District would not be able to complete enough of the project to allow any part of the community to stop septic discharge within the previously imposed time deadline. Recognizing, however, that the Yucca Valley community, by means of the May 2015 vote, had begun the process of designing and building the system, the State Water Resources Control Board dispensed with the May 2016 deadline and extended the deadline for the first phase’s completion until June 30, 2021.
The Yucca Valley sewer system is now moving toward completion.
One aspect of the Third District supervisor selection process demonstrated the degree to which Dawn Rowe was willing to alter her personal guideposts to match the expectations of those who are now her board colleagues.
On December 11, 2018 Lovingood asked her, “If you receive the appointment, would it be your intent to run again or is that something to be decided midstream? Where are you on that thought?”
Rowe responded, “So, when my husband died I stopped planning. I had a great plan that extended out into my retirement years and long term planning for me [now] is about six months. So, right or wrong, it is where God has taken me in my life, and I have no plans necessarily to seek election. But then to be honest with you, I wasn’t seeking election to the town council when I moved to Yucca Valley, either. So, in all fairness, no, it is not part of my long term plan. Could it be possible if the citizens maybe advocate for that if I was doing an effective job as the appointed supervisor? Possibly, but it’s not necessarily a part of my plan.”
A week later, Tuesday December 18, Supervisor Gonzales said, “It came to my attention whether it was gossip, or innuendo or scuttlebutt, that somehow you were being prompted or promoted to submit your application because it was Congressman Cook’s intent to run for Third District supervisor in 2020 and that you would be used as a placeholder. I called Congressman Cook and I spoke to him. I spoke to him very directly about my concern. He assured me that he did not have any intent to throw his hat in the ring for Third District supervisor in the year 2020. I’m saying this for the record. And I told him that although I am termed out in 2020 and if God gives me life and anything happens to the contrary I will come back and call him out.”
To that, Rowe said, “I was asked if I would run again outside this board. In going forward I was asked the same question here, ‘Would I seek election to this seat in 2020?’ My answer, truly from the heart is, ‘I really don’t like to plan long term because it is painful when it doesn’t happen. However, I said, in all candor, and I used Chad Mayes and Paul Cook, I said I would like to run for the seat, but you never know what happens in politics. Who is to say, that for example – and this was a private conversation that was apparently repeated or through gossip or however it came to your knowledge or was repeated differently – but what happens when someone like Congressman Cook or Assemblyman Mayes change course in their careers and they decide they should seek that seat, I would absolutely defer to their experience and what they would bring to the table and I would not run again, in that example. That was an answer I gave to a colleague of mine. I was being truthful at that time. I would not run against them for this position, when we were talking. I felt I was being deferential to their experience coming back to the county level. And that was it. So, Congressman Cook intends to run for Congress again. He is actively pursuing that. There is no deviation in that course, internally, externally or otherwise. That is his intent, and he and I have not had a conversation, nor has anyone on our staff to the contrary. So, I just want to assuage that concern.”
Gonzales sought clarification, asking Rowe, “So, for the record, you are saying you would not run against Congressman Cook or Assembly Member Chad Mayes?”
Rowe sought to deflect the question, saying “Wouldn’t that be spicy? I’m not saying that for the record. I was asked that last week.”
Gonzales pressed her, saying, “I’m asking you that now.”
“I would certainly run against either of them,” Rowe said.
After she was selected by the board, Rowe further reflected her readiness to live up to her new colleagues’ expectations, saying, “I’d just like to thank everyone present, the citizens. I look forward to representing all of you with an open mind and with all of the energy that I have to do an effective job for the Third District. I’d like to thank the chairman and the board for the opportunity to continue this term and I look forward to running in 2020.”
By Mark Gutglueck