Clash Over Budget Review Sends SB City Council Into Virtual Meltdown

By Mark Gutglueck
In going the extra mile to ensure adequate public participation at a specially-called city council meeting for Wednesday night, San Bernardino City Clerk Georgeann Hanna sent out a social media alert telling a circle of city residents that the convocation of the city’s leaders to discuss a single item involving a midyear budget review was to take place. Anticipating a dry and numbers-filled, somnolence-provoking discussion, Hanna advised those who were contemplating showing up to “bring coffee.”
As it turned out, the council members themselves provided sufficient fireworks to keep the crowd jumping.
The meeting began with customary decorum with the reciting of the pledge of allegiance, led by Councilman Henry Nickel.
Four individuals spoke at the outset of the meeting during the public comment portion. While those speaking stayed within the bounds of propriety, each gave a hint of the chaos that was hovering around the meeting chamber.
Mike Hartley said, “Here we are again at a meeting called by the mayor, for what purpose I have no idea. I can only assume the mayor and his chief of staff are the only ones privy to the information, and maybe a few council members who always vote his way. Again, I can only assume, because the meeting is called Budget Study Workshop, you plan on discussing the budget for 2018-2019. If it’s for that year I can only assume it is to criticize the city manager for the mistakes she made in her projections and on her forecasts for the city budget.”
Treasure Ortiz said, “I’m really, really shocked that there is even a meeting being held with no backup. If my recollection serves, Madame City Manager, are you not directly in charge of the budget? I find it very odd that the mayor would call a special meeting to discuss the budget that is controlled directly by you, by your staff. There is no oversight in this city. This is why there is no budgetary process. This is why it is dangerous for a mayor or a council to be able to control an agenda that doesn’t have to go through a city manager or her staff. I will not be able to sit her and watch the six of you carry on for a meeting for which you have no documentation. You have no background material to make an informed decision. Why 24 hours prior notice [of the meeting]? What is the emergency for a budget workshop?”
Harry Hatch said, “Don’t use your money unwisely. Think about what you are going to do.” Saying that members of the council were asking the right questions, Hatch then offered a prescient take on things. “What are you doing wrong?” he asked, and then answered, “You’re not cooperating.”
Luis Ojeda said “Mr. Mayor, I think it is very inconsiderate of you to do this to us because I just found out at the last minute, and I don’t appreciate this, because I want to be involved, I want to help, but if I don’t have advance notice there’s going to be a meeting, I’m not able to prepare well to ask questions or to make a comment. If we care about how much we are spending, we need to start here. I’m sure that on the next agenda we could talk about this, on not to spend money because I don’t think you guys are working for free. Frankly, what I see is we are spending money for no reason. I would appreciate for you guys to start focusing on what is important to all of us.”
Saying that he appreciated the public comments, Mayor John Valdvia then took the floor to direct the meeting toward its intended subject, at which point things went careening out of control.
“Earlier this month, our interim finance director presented on March 6, 2019 a midyear budget report…” Valdivia began.
“Mayor, through the chair,” Councilman Fred Shorett broke in.
Valdivia endeavored to continue. “Her report described what was…”
“Mayor, through the chair,” Shorett persisted. “I’m not going to relent, Mayor. I’m not going to relent.”
“Mr. Shorett,” Valdivia said.
“I believe this is an inappropriate meeting, ill-advised, and I’d like to hear from our city attorney on how we’re having this,” Shorett said. “Everyone who has been up here tonight has said exactly the right thing, and that is we are sitting here with absolutely no backup whatsoever. And I know what is going on here: It’s you and your chief of staff, and you’re going to do something to make our city manager look bad. That’s the intent of this meeting, and anybody that doesn’t believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell ya. I’d like to hear from the city attorney as to whether this is actually a legally posted and appropriately posted meeting.”
Valdivia started once more, “Earlier this month…”
“Mayor,” said Shorett. “I move for adjournment. Are we being televised?”
“Yes we are, sir,” said Valdvia.
“Do you want me to respond to that, Mayor?” asked City Attorney Gary Saenz.
“No, I’m going to continue with my comment,” said Valdivia. “Thank you Mr. Shorett. Thank you, Mr. City Attorney. I appreciate it.”
“Earlier this year, on March 6 of 2019…” Valdiva launched into his presentation.
“This is being highjacked,” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” said Valdivia.
“I know I am,” said Shorett. “You bet I am.”
“You done?” asked Valdivia.
“Oh no, are you going to give me more time?” Shorett asked.
“Okay,” said Valdivia.
“I am not done, no,” said Shorett.
“Go ahead,” said the mayor.
“This is an outrage,” said Shorett. “And I would like to hear,” Shorett said, pointing to the city attorney, “on this meeting. Where’s the backup [material]? What is the purpose of this meeting? What you are doing is you are highjacking this council. You are not the king. Under the new charter you have no real authority other than a couple of tiebreakers, and we’ve been doing that for three months. We’ve had six meetings in three months, six regular meetings, and we’ve had five, maybe six emergency meetings. And the letter of the law might allow you to have, to call a special meeting, but the spirit of the law is for an emergency. And this is no more of an emergency than the man in the moon, and we all know it, and we all know what’s going on here.”
“Earlier this month, on March 6 of 2019,” Valdivia began once more.
“Point of inquiry, if I may,” Councilman Henry Nickel said then.
“Mr. Nickel,” the mayor said.
“I have received concern from the public,” Nickel said. “A lot of people don’t know what this is about. I received a special meeting agenda that literally had one line on it. I really don’t know what this is about. I am concerned that there may be a notice issue here. I do want to make sure that we aren’t in violation of the Brown Act at present, given the fact that there was very little notice, very little background, very little documentation provided. I would like the city attorney’s opinion on that.”
“Sure,” said Valdivia. “Mr. City Attorney, what say you?”
“I was actually contacted by members of the public asking me what the meeting was about,” said City Attorney Gary Saenz. “I had to tell them I didn’t know what the meeting was about. That made me believe that there was probably going to be some concern about the agendizing, and whether or not it was proper to inform the public. As we all know, the Brown Act requires open and public meetings. When the Brown Act was enacted in the ‘Fifties, a lot of meetings were taking place behind closed doors without the public knowing what was going on. The Brown Act requires, of course, that meetings be open and public. Public means that the public has a right to participate in meetings, in my opinion, And public openness is enhanced by the Brown Act requirement of a meaningful agenda. In other words, you want the public to have an opportunity to participate. That opportunity is enhanced when they have a meaningful agenda, that is, they are informed, they have sufficient information as to what the meeting is about, what’s going to be discussed, so they can make a decision whether or not this is something they want to participate in. They want to be heard, they have an interest, they have concerns, whatever the case may be. That is what the Brown Act does, it allows the public to participate, to be a part of a meeting. We’ve heard from constituents today, Luis Ojeda, who said, for example, he didn’t know what this meeting is. I’ve heard from other constituents, many. I’ve heard from council people, asking me what this meeting is about. I had to tell them, ‘I don’t know. Your city attorney doesn’t know.’ Most of the staff in San Bernardino City, as far as I know, don’t know what this meeting is about. That, in my opinion, is not consistent with the Brown Act. The Brown Act calls for open [meetings]. We hear talk a lot about transparency, and that’s a good thing. This council and this mayor have talked significantly about wanting to have open and transparent meetings, be open to the public, be receptive to the public’s participation and input. That’s all well and good. An agenda that simply has three words – Budget Study Workshop – in my mind, without any backup to qualify that, is not a meaningful agenda, sufficient to advise the public of what this meeting is about so they can participate..”
“Thank you, Mr. City Attorney,” said Valdivia. “I do have some questions for you.”
“Sure,” said Saenz.
“Was the meeting in compliance with the Brown Act on noticing?” Valdivia asked. “Yes or no?”
“No,” said Saenz.
“Miss City Clerk,” said Valdivia. “Did you advertise in protocol of the Brown Act requirements to notice the public?”
“I published the agenda on Monday,” City Clerk Georgeann Hanna said, “which was more than 24 hours before the special meeting as required by the Brown Act…”
The remainder of what she said was indecipherable as Saenz and the mayor began to speak over her at once, with Saenz’s words obscured as well. Valdivia’s “Very good” could be made out.
“Mr. City Attorney, you’re out of order, sir,” said Valdivia. “You will wait until I call on you.”
“King John!” exclaimed Shorett.
“Miss City Clerk, please continue,” Valdivia said.
“On Friday, I heard from your chief of staff that you wanted to call this meeting, and I asked him at that time if there would be any backup, and he said no, that you would provide a PowerPoint presentation,” Hanna said.
“As to the provisions of noticing, Miss City Clerk, are they in compliance to your attestation?” Valdvia asked.
After a pregnant pause, Hanna said, “Yes. This was posted more than 24 hours prior to the meeting.”
“Very good,” said Valdivia. “I think the meeting will continue. I am not in violation of the Brown Act.”
At that point it was as if all of Hell, or at least a good portion of it, had overthrown Satan and with him among its legions bore through its encasement within the solid iron core surrounding the center of the earth, shot through the liquid iron core, blasted its way through the lower mantle, pierced the upper mantle, continued on its upward progression through the athenosphere, broke through the lithosphere and poked up out of the continental mantle and then progressed three stories up into the City of San Bernardino’s alternative administrative building at 201-B North E Street in downtown San Bernardino into the council chamber on the third floor.
“I move for adjournment,” said Shorett. “This is not a proper…”
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” Valdivia said.
“I move for adjournment,” repeated Shorett.
“If I may, let me read this,” Valdivia said.
“I’ll second that,” said Councilman Jim Mulvihill in response to Shorett’s motion.
I will…” began the mayor.
“Call for the question,” said Shorett.
“We will continue,” Valdivia said, his intent to get to the meat of his presentation, which highlighted a multitude of financial challenges the municipality faces. Those include an approximate $2 million shortfall in projected revenue in Fiscal Year 2018-19, a $1.5 million miscalculation of utility tax receipts, and a drop off of $674,000 in water fund revenue from what was layered into the budget. Valdivia was also prepared to bring up the consideration that the city had made an effort to balance its books by reducing outlays in the police department by as much as $1.7 million through not rehiring officers to replace departing ones. Another thorny issue Valdivia had in mind is the likelihood that gas tax receipts will dip by $6.5 million in Fiscal Year 2019-20.
“Earlier this month, on March 6,” the mayor went on. “Mr. Shorett…”
“I think there’s a motion,” said Mulvihill.
“I think there’s a motion,” echoed Shorett, “and a second. Call for the question.”
“The chair does not recognize it,” the Mayor said.
“The chair does not have a choice,” said Mulvihill.
“Well, then the chair’s going to have to carry on this meeting without us…” said Shorett.
“Then goodbye, Mr. Shorett,” said Valdivia. “If you don’t want to participate in the future of this city, that’s fine.”
“I don’t want to work under you, Mr. Mayor,” said Shorett. “I’ll tell you what: I’m going to stay here…”
Valdvia, loudly banged his gavel with purpose five times.
“You’re out of order, sir,” said Valdivia, briefly leaning toward Shorett.
“I’m not out of order,” said Shorett, who then thundered, “You’re out of order.”
“Okay, then…” began Valdivia.
“You’re out of order,” said Shorett, gesticulating by pointing directly at the mayor. “You have been for nine years.”
Valdivia lifted his gavel, firmly rapping it five times on the dais top as if he wished the dais were Shorett’s head.
“You’ve been on the wrong side of every issue in this city and now you think you’re king,” Shorett said with passion.
“Earlier this month…” Valdivia started once more. “our city administrator presented her midyear report…
“The charter says the mayor does not have administrative powers,” said Mulvihill, interrupting him.
“…to this community and this council,” Valdivia attempted to continue.
“I move to adjourn,” said Shorett.
“Can the mayor pro tem call the meeting?” asked Mulvihill.
“Yes she can,” said Shorett.
“The report went on to describe what was in the 2018-2019 budget approved for this fiscal year and whether our predictions are proving to be accurate,” the mayor said.
“There it is,” said Shorett. “There it is. He’s going after the city manager right now for a mistake. That’s the whole purpose of this meeting.”
”As our finance director reported in her presentations, some of the numbers in her forecast presented to the public on March 6, 2019 are off big time,’ the mayor intoned.
“Not really big time,” said Mulvihill. “Hardly. Hardly.”
“Mr. Mulvihill, you are out of order, sir,” Valdivia said.
“You are,” said Mulvihill. “You are.”
“Mr. Mayor, you’re out of order,” insisted Shorett, “and you have been.”
“Okay,” the mayor said.
“You and Mr. Essayli think you are running this city nowadays and it’s not going to happen,” said Shorett, his reference being to Valdivia’s chief-of-staff.
“Mr. Shorett,” the mayor said, “You are out of order, sir.”
“I am not out of order,” Shorett responded.
“You have no administrative power,” Mulvihill said.
“You have no administrative power,” Shorett repeated.
“I was troubled by what I read in this report,” Valdivia said.
“You have no administrative power,” said Shorett said. “None. Zero.”
“There is false numbers presented in the budget report as presented on March…” the mayor continued.
“Those are estimates,” Mulvihill exclaimed. “Those are estimates. You don’t know what business is.”
“Mr. Mulvihill, would you like the floor?” Valdivia asked.
“I think I’m already talking,” said Mulvihill. “What are the powers and duties of the mayor?”
“I called for tonight’s budget workshop so the council and I can better understand and comprehend the state of our finances here in our community,” the mayor stated. “That’s what you pay the council and the mayor to do.”
“You should recognize that yourself,” said Mulvihill.
Valdivia said he wanted to get “some answers on what went wrong. We need to also start discussing how we move forward from here. The mayor’s office has been combing through the numbers in the midyear budget report and we will present our findings to the full council. After this presentation we will have some questions for our finance director and our city manager. I see that Miss Conrad is not here. Ms. City manager, why is the fiance director not here?”
Rita Conrad is San Bernardino’s acting finance director.
Before City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller responded, Shorett said, “Andrea, read your email.”
“Mayor and members of the council, this afternoon I did advise each of you the city staff had been advised they were not required to attend this evening’s meeting. As the council is aware, Rita [Conrad] is working in an interim capacity with limited hours. The California Public Employees Retirement System has very strict restrictions on the number of hours retirees can work. We scheduled her time so we can complete three major tasks. We want to complete the recruitment for the new finance director, complete the budget analysis and preparation for the meeting with the city council on the upcoming fiscal year and address the financial audit. The finance department provided a thorough analysis of the midyear budget review. We did that orally at the March 6 meeting. We went through it. I do have copies of that available. We also discussed that at the March 20 meeting during the capital improvements program presentation. We have copies of that report for you. We are prepared to answer any questions you have. The departments are currently in the process of preparing the projections for the 19/20 budget. Per the charter we are required to provide to you a budget for your consideration in advance of the fiscal year, and I will be prepared to present those numbers to you in late April, early May, as we typically do. I did receive a response to my email from the mayor’s office directed to the interim finance director.”
Travis-Miller then read the email from Essayli. “’Rita, the mayor’s office expects the finance director to be in attendance at tonight’s budget workshop,’” Travis Miller said. “’We look forward to seeing you at tonight’s meeting unless the city manager has ordered you not to attend. A directive not to attend should be in writing. Andrea, if Rita is not there tonight, you can expect us to release a press release on the matter. This is not a game.’ And so I do have copies of that for you, as well.”
“Thank you, Miss Miller,” Valdivia said.
“There you go, people,” Shorett said. “That’s what’s going on, you see, in the mayor’s office. It’s a battle. It’s a war.”
“At this time, I’d ask that my chief of staff present the report from the mayor’s office…” began Valdivia.
“The chief of staff is not authorized…” interjected Shorett.
“…and the findings we would like to present to the council,” continued Valdivia.
“I have a concern. I have no information in front of me,” said Nickel, and his words disappeared into an indecipherable jumble of sound as Shorett and Valdivia held forth at the same time.
“I think it’s appropriate that whatever Mr. Essayli presented, we have a report that we can adequately prepare for tonight’s meeting,” said Nickel.
“Mr. Essayli,” Valdivia said, introducing Bilar “Bill” Essayli, his chief of staff, as he made his way to the speaker’s podium.
“We do not have any information right now…” Nickel continued, his voice clashing with the mayor’s introduction.
“Councilman Nickel,” Essayli began.
“You are not the finance director and you’ve got one line…” Shorett said.
“This is all I’ve got,” said Nickel, holding up the one page agenda announcement.
“Let us speak…” said Essayli .
“No, we’re not going to let you,” said Shorett.
“Let me speak. Staff routinely prepares PowerPoints that are not previewed or given to you ahead of time,” asserted Essayli.
“You have no authority here,” shouted Shorett.
A cacophony of the back-and-forth from the council dais with Essayli followed, in which no sustained sentences were clear. Then, Nickel was heard saying, “I’ll tell you what. If this were an item brought to me by the city manager, I would rightfully condemn her for not bringing me adequate information. I have nothing. This is …
“If you’ll just let us speak, you will hear,” said Essayli.
“I have to prepare,” said Nickel, with the sound welling up around him. “That’s the whole point. I have to have notice so I can adequately prepare as a council member to participate in a discussion. This is not a dictatorship. This is a city council.”
“Mr. Essayli, you are not the city manager,” said Shorett
“You are out of order,” Valdvia told Shorett
“Mr. Mayor, you are out of order,” retorted Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order,” the mayor said.
“We need information so we can make adequate decisions and have adequate discussion,” said Nickel.
Mr. Shorett, if you would please control your anger,” said Valdivia.
“This is the definition of blindsided,” Nickel said.
“We need information…” Nickel started.
“We’re going over the report,” said Essayli.
“…before we can have the discussion. I would move to continue this meeting…” Nickel stated.
“Okay,” said Valdivia
“so we can get the information we need,” Nickel continued.
“I move to adjourn,” said Shorett.
“Let me just speak, if I may,” said Nickel. “I think the mayor has the prerogative to call a special meeting. To be fair to the chief of staff, I think there are some legitimate concerns potentially here. What I am concerned about is I have not had an opportunity to prepare tonight. The public needs an opportunity to understand what it is we’re going to discuss tonight. I have a problem when I have constituents calling, who say ‘What are you doing. What is this about?’ And now we find out what this is about, which is good. I think if there’s some issues with what happened in the budget and we need to have a conversation about what the corrections were, let’s do that.”
“Give me thirty seconds to respond,” said Essayli.
“I will be happy to let you respond, but my motion still stands,” said Nickel. “We need to continue this for the public first and foremost. The government is the people of San Bernardino, my friend. They are the government. Not Mr. Valdivia. Not you. The people of San Bernardino is the government and the people must have an understanding of what is happening here tonight. Right now, they do not.”
“That’s what the Brown Act requires,” City Attorney Saenz said.
“The people of San Bernardino have an absolute right to know what the concerns are that are going to be discussed here tonight,” Nickel went on. “And we have an obligation as elected officials to provide information to the public – the government of San Bernardino, the people – to understand what it is we are doing here tonight. And right now, they have no clue. We just found out. And I don’t disagree. I think the mayor has brought up some valid points and I will let you [Essayli] continue to bring those points up. What I say is, ‘Let’s continue this. Let’s get the documentation. Let’s get the information you are going to present so we have time to digest it, so I have some time to engage with my constituents – the government of San Bernardino, the people of San Bernardino – so that when I am on this dais I am representing them in terms of what we are going to discuss.’”
“We know what this is about,” Shorett interjected. “It’s about beating Andrea [Travis-Miller] up.”
Essayli said he intended to focus in greater depth on the midyear budget review which the council had not had adequate time at the last council meeting to consider. Nickel said the problem was less with what was being done than the way it was done. “I agree,” he said. “I have some concerns. My constituents have some concerns. I think the people of San Bernardino have some concerns about our budget. We clearly have some things we need to address. My concern is the way this was brought forward tonight. It’s not the way we handle matters appropriately. We need to give notice so the public has an opportunity to participate. Personally, I know people who would be here tonight if they knew this was being discussed.”
“Councilman, with all due respect, the mayor spent one to two minutes at the last council meeting discussing his intent to call this meeting and what the meeting is about,” Essayli said. “We’re happy to provide that audio and video. He couldn’t have been clearer that the purpose of tonight’s meeting was to go over the midyear budget review in the form of a workshop.”
“Then include it,” said Nickel.
“We’re not presenting any new information,” said Essayli.
“Mr Essayli, that’s not what the Brown Act requires,” said Saenz. Further indecipherable cacophony ensued as Saenz, Nickel and Essayli all sought to talk over each other at once.
“All we’re asking is to have a conversation about the budget, said Essayli. “There is no harm in discussing that in public.”
When Saenz sought to make the point that new or old, the subject of a scheduled public discussion has to be thoroughly disclosed ahead of time, Valdivia said, “Mr. Attorney, Mr. Nickel is recognized. You will have to wait your turn.”
“Is there any harm in continuing this?” Nickel asked. “I think we need this discussion. Let me be frank: We need to have this conversation. I agree with the mayor’s chief of staff and I agree with the mayor. We need to have this conversation. What I think we have to do before we can do that is make sure that the public, the people of San Bernardino, understand what is happening here. Because they have an absolute right. Aside from the people sitting at this dais, what I care about are the people sitting out there, and they need to understand what is going on. I would respectfully suggest that we continue this. Let’s agendize it appropriately. Let’s get the information back so we can.”
“It’s agendized appropriately,” said Essayli. “We went through the city clerk. I gave her notice on Friday…
“Personally, I don’t think it is,” said Nickel.
“I don’t either,” said Shorett.
Another cacophony ensued, with Shorett, Nickel, Essayli and Saenz speaking at once. Shorett outlasted the others and was heard saying “You are not a city attorney or a finance director. You’re a 31-year-old lawyer that got…”
“You’re out of order Mr. Shorett,” said Valdvia, and then shut off Shorett’s microphone. “You’ll refrain, sir.”
“I don’t want to disparage anybody,” said Nickel
“Well, I do,” said Shorett.
“And you’ll abide by our code of conduct,” the mayor said.
Shorett continued, but because his microphone was disengaged, most of his words were inaudible.
Valdivia banged his gavel three times. “Mr Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” he said.
“You’re out of order,” Shorett could be heard saying.
“Mr. Shorett, compose yourself, please,” Valdivia said. “Stay on point, sir.”
“I’m fine,” said Shorett. “I’m on point.”
“You’re letting your emotions and your anger dictate your feelings now,” said the mayor.
“I’ve been angry all day long,” Shorett said. “I’ve been angry since December 18th [the day before Valdivia was sworn in as mayor].”
“Mr. Shorett,” Valdivia said, “stay on point here. We’re trying to conduct a meeting here. It is a budget workshop. It was agendized. It was noticed. I made my intentions public.”
“You’ve got two motions that are still on the floor,” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order,” the mayor said.
“Call for the question,” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, if you will silence yourself,” said Valdivia. “You will abide by the code of conduct, sir.”
“Or what?” asked Shorett
“Or I will censure you,” Valdivia said.
“You don’t have a process,” said Shorett.
“We’ll start one,” said Valdivia.
“We need one,” responded Shorett. “And you don’t make it. The council makes it.”
When Valdivia recognized councilwoman Bessine Richard, she said that what was going on was “not something I appreciate. This is not what I signed up for. This is a business meeting. At this point I don’t think we would even be able to have meaningful conversation. Everybody is alarmed. Everybody is agitated. Everybody’s upset, and… I did get a few questions about the agenda because it was very brief. I did myself expect to get some backup along with the agenda when I saw two pages. So, I want to agree with some of my colleagues, that we can continue this this because I don’t think we will have any healthy dialogue tonight, based on how people are feeling. I want all of our council members to have a say-so in this meeting. It’s about the city. It’s about us representing all parts of the city, and at this point, I don’t think all parts of the city will be represented tonight.”
Mayor Valdivia took issue with the various assertions that the information that was contained within the PowerPoint presentation that Essayli was to present was not available. “We do have backup material,” he said. “We have a PowerPoint presentation.”
“I’m going to present it if you give me the opportunity,” said Essayli. “The public is watching on TV and they’ll be able to see.”
“The public can’t participate from the television, sir,” said Saenz.
“Okay, so the information is available to the public,” said Valdivia. “There is a provision to provide that, Miss City Clerk,. All of the information can be provided…”
“Is it online?” Shorett interpolated.
“Mr. Shorett, if you would please,” the mayor said.
“It’s not available to the public if it’s not online,” said Shorett.
“There is a provision and a caveat within the Brown Act that if there’s copies available at a meeting, the copies can be provided with the proviso they’re provided through the city clerk’s office,” Valdivia said. “We have the information here. We’ll make it a public document. There’s no secrets here. This is a big distraction on what we need to talk about. The issues of our budget are – There’s a lot of concerns here, and we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Before getting to Nickel’s motion to make provision of the documentation to all parties and bring the item back for discussion at a later date, Councilman Theodore Sanchez weighed in.
“Councilman Shorett made pretty clear his stance,” said Sanchez, “that since December, since inauguration day, that he doesn’t like what is going on. He doesn’t like what is going on because he doesn’t like who’s in the [mayoral] seat. I would say, ‘Put aside that anger. Put aside that partisanship and please, let’s conduct the city’s business.’ This is a review of the budget that we reviewed initially two council meetings ago. All this information has been public since then. We’ve had members of the public point exactly to what we are going to be discussing right now.”
“No they didn’t,” Shorett said. “They all said this is crazy.”
“They have all…” Sanchez started.
“There’s no backup,” said Shorett. “I’m not going to sit here and listen to this.”
“Then you need to be quiet, Mr. Shorett,” Valdivia said. “You are out of order.”
When Shorett started to respond that what Sanchez was saying was not accurate, Valdivia spoke over him, intoning, “You are out of order. You are out of order, Mr. Shorett. You are out of order. The chair does not recognize you.”
“That is why we asked the finance director to attend,” said Sanchez, as Shorett registered protests that were inaudible over the mayor’s repeated insistence that he was out of order.
“We asked for it?” Shorett responded incredulously to Sanchez.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order,” Valdivia said, banging his gavel. “Mr. Sanchez, continue.”
“You don’t believe a review of the finances…” Sanchez started.
“We didn’t ask…” said Shorett.
“Mr. Shorett, you are out of order, sir,” Valdivia said. “You will conduct yourself in decorum, sir.”
“Fred, I’m going to go ahead and say it,” Sanchez said. “I’m embarrassed.”
“Fine,” said Shorett. “I’ve been here ten years and I don’t have a problem. I’m tired of this. I see what is going on.”
“Mr. Shorett, you’re out of order, sir.” the mayor said.
“This is embarrassing,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to ask the city manager a question. I know that the finance director is here on a limited basis. I know the California Public Employees Retirement System limits her hours. When she started here, how many hours were allocated to her working in this position?”
“I don’t know exactly how many hours,” began Travis-Miller.
“I know it’s in the hundreds,” Sanchez cut her off.
“I didn’t finish,” Travis-Miller said. “The California Public Employees Retirement System precludes people from working more than 960 hours, but that’s for all service. I don’t know how much she may have worked for another community. I’d have to check that. With that said, the reason she’s not here is we need to complete three major projects. I don’t want her to run out of hours and have to bring in another interim to serve in that capacity until we can get the finance director position filled.”
Travis-Miller said she had misgivings about the fashion in which the call to that evening’s workshop on the budget had been issued, and “did not want to blindside staff. I was not aware of what the true purpose was. I’m prepared to address what we’ve already presented. I’m certainly prepared to speak on the process for the 19/20 period, but I was not going to put the staff in the position of blindsiding them. The staff reports to me. I am the city manager. I am responsible for the budget and the finance department. I don’t blindside my staff. I think blindsiding people does not encourage people to perform to the best of their abilities. It certainly doesn’t build a culture of trust that we’re working to build in the organization.”
“So, she doesn’t have enough time to be here, but you don’t know how much time she has left to work in this capacity for our city,” said Sanchez.
“I’m not going to have her blindsided, and we have mapped out her hours so she can complete those tasks,” Travis-Miller responded. “But there’s certainly some things that just have to be completed.”
“So how many hours does she have available?” Sanchez pressed.
“I don’t remember,” Travis-Miller said. “Bottom line, I’m not going to put my staff in the position of being blindsided. I’m perfectly capable of answering these questions.”
“So, it’s not clear enough here when it says we’re going to do a budget study workshop that we’ll be discussing the city’s finances?” Sanchez asked.
“I am prepared to discuss anything,” Travis-Miller said. “We’ve been through these numbers now a couple of times, at the March 6 meeting, the March 20 meeting. I’m prepared to answer any questions you have about the midyear financial report, and I’m perfectly capable of answering any questions about the budget going forward. So, I’m not going to have my staff blindsided. I’m not going to do it. I’m their employer. We don’t treat each other that way.”
Essayli said, “We had one meeting with the city manager and the finance director. We brought up many of the issues we were going to go over tonight. Nobody’s being blindsided. These are important questions about the city’s finances. This is a city fresh out of bankruptcy and we have to ensure this city is not going to go back into bankruptcy. So, when the mayor’s office has tough questions for the city manager, we expect answers. To be frank with you, we didn’t get answers at that meeting. The finance director was instructed to not communicate with us. She has prevented the finance director from answering our questions.”
“This is an outrage,” Shorett said. “This is an absolute outrage.”
“We have asked for backup information repeatedly,” said Essayli. “They have not been provided to us. So we called this meeting in order to get answers publicly, but tonight the city manager has instructed the finance director not to be here to prevent you guys from being able to get the answers that you need.”
“You’re just trying to direct her to be here, and that is not your authority, sir,” Shorett said, “and you’re not the city attorney and you’re not the finance director and you’re not the city manager.”
“You’re out of order,” Validivia said. “The chair will recognize Mr. Sanchez for his comments remaining. You’re acting really silly, Fred, but it’s all on display. Mr. Sanchez.”
“Fred, so the type of emotion you’re displaying here – Is there something else wrong?” Sanchez asked.
“Yeah, there sure is,” Shorett said.
“What is it?” Sanchez asked.
“This guy is mayor,” Shorett said, motioning first toward Valdivia and then pointing at Sanchez, “and you as a council member are just following his lead.”
“So it has nothing to do with the council members trying to conduct the business of trying to review the city finances?” Sanchez asked.
“That is just the phoniest line,” Shorett said. “This is not conducting business. This is a public flogging of the city manager.”
“The people deserve better than this, what they’ve seen tonight,” said Councilman Mulvihill.
The council at last agreed to reschedule the budget study workshop for the April 3 council meeting, for which the background materials relating to it, including Essayli’s PowerPoint presentation, are to be provided to the council and the public three days in advance.

Expansionist Apple Valley Gobbles Up More Land

Apple Valley, which is already San Bernardino County’s largest municipality landwise, has been given permission by the county agency overseeing jurisdictional matters to expand the area within its town limits by 2.14 square miles.
The San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission ratified the town’s request to annex just under 1,370 acres of desert expanse north of Bell Mountain, east of and immediately adjacent to Interstate 15, south of Morro Road, west of Fairfield Road and North of Johnson Road.
The acquisition puts more distance between the town and the City of Victorville for the title of San Bernardino County’s largest geographical incorporated entity.
Before the annexation, Apple Valley, Victorville and Hesperia were in a three-way dead heat for bragging rights as to the size of city/town limits, or more aptly put in this case, city/town expanse. Apple Valley stood at a total of 74.99 square miles, including 74.92 square miles of dry land and 0.07 square miles of water. Victorville covers 73.89 square miles, of which 73.33 square miles is land and 0.56 square miles is surface water. Hesperia consists of 73.21 square miles, including a land mass of 73.1 square miles and a 0.11 square mile body of water.
With the annexation, Apple Valley now spreads out over 77.13 square miles.
After an evaluation of the application by the Local Agency Formation Commission’s staff, the commission issued a certificate of completion on February 27. The commission certified that the town council had made the proper notification of all land owners and had conducted a previously noticed and properly advertised protest hearing on February 4, followed by the town council’s approval of the annexation on February 12, together with a determination that the town has the requisite financial wherewithal to jumpstart the provision of a full range of services to the area to be subsumed. According to a long-term fiscal-impact analysis, as the eastern periphery of the I-15 develops in accordance with the town’s commercial zoning for the area, tax revenues into the town will substantially increase, more than offsetting the cost of providing infrastructure and services to the area.
Moreover the certification attests that the city has avowed it will make a filing to annex the remaining 1,405 acres of 2,775 acres the town had sought to annex in 2009. The 2009 annexation effort, which included the 1,370 acres now being brought into the town, proved unsuccessful. At that time, the town referred to the 2,775 acres as “the Golden Triangle.”
That reference alludes to the significant addition of sales-tax producing commercial property the annexation represents.
Under the annexation arrangement, the town will share property tax revenues with San Bernardino County in accordance with a tax allocation schedule that entitles Apple Valley to half of the 9.5 percent property tax rate.
“The annexation adds three miles of prime freeway frontage to the town’s boundaries,” said Apple Valley Mayor Larry Cusack. “The annexation area is a logical extension of the town’s continued growth.”
In persisting with the land takeover, Apple Valley effectuates several imperatives in one blow. It makes way for the town to capture the potentially lucrative tax proceeds from the businesses anticipated to crop up along the east side of the I-15 north of the city. It also ensures that, for the territory annexed at least, any designs that Victorville may have had on the land will be thwarted. The extension of Apple Valley northward reduces considerably, as well, the prospect that Victorville will be able to extend itself northward and surround Apple Valley or hem it in.
Victorville has a demonstrated history of expansionist intent. Incorporated in 1962, Victorville was a much more mature municipal entity than either Apple Valley, incorporated in 1988, and Hesperia, also incorporated in 1988. Victorville continuously and consistently outmaneuvered both the Town of Apple Valley and the City of Hesperia when it came to securing and virtually monopolizing the prime commercial properties in the High Desert, particular those bordering the I-15 Freeway, along which some 190,000 commuters sojourning from the Greater Los Angeles Area to La Vegas travel weekly. The property at the focus of Apple Valley’s 2009 annexation effort was the second area in the High Desert to be referred to as the “Golden Triangle.” Further south, another key piece of property, this one involving land coterminous with Victorville and Hesperia, had been termed “the Golden Triangle.” This property lies at the tip of the nexus between the 15 Freeway and Highway 395 at the southern end and extends northward between those two major arteries all the way to its northern boundary at Bear Valley Road. Hesperia, shortly after its incorporation, led by then-City Manager Robert Rizzo, had initially managed to put that property into its sphere of influence. But before Hesperia could annex it, Victorville, then led by Mayor Terry Caldwell and City Manager James Cox, in the early 1990s used the experience and sophistication of its top city officials and their contacts at the county seat in San Bernardino to outmaneuver their less astute political and administrative counterparts in Hesperia to first remove the Golden Triangle from Hesperia’s sphere of influence, then have the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission put that property, with its rich sales tax-producing frontages, within Victorville’s sphere of influence and subsequently, after a short interim, annex it to within Victorville’s city limits.
Cox, who is now a city councilman in Victorville, in 2007 and 2008 served as Apple Valley’s town manager and was instrumental while he was in that capacity in laying the foundation of Apple Valley’s annexation application for the north-lying Golden Triangle.
It is anticipated that the town will submit the second request relating to the remaining 1,405 acres by September or October.
Apple Valley has tentatively slated more than 5.6 million square feet situated between Johnson and Morro roads for commercial and office/professional use. The annexation of the 1,365 acres, putting all land use authority into the hands of Town Hall, makes for a streamlined process that will render the development of that property much easier to execute, assuming the property owners have intentions consistent with Apple Valley’s codes and zoning. As development occurs, the value of the property will increase, upping the town’s property tax revenues. As the property is utilized for sales of taxable goods, sales tax revenue will increase, as well.
If the landowners and developers are willing to abide by the town’s expectations as shown in and provided for on zoning maps, its development code and general plan, up to 247 single family residential units will go where the property is zoned residential and 3.6 million square feet of industrial space will be welcomed into the area’s commercial zones. Tax revenue from the project at buildout will exceed $11 million per year, town officials confidently predict.
-Mark Gutglueck

Mountain City Would Span Lake Gregory, Crestline, Enchantment & Moon Valleys

The long talked-about concept of creating in the San Bernardino Mountains what would be San Bernardino County’s 25th city is progressing somewhat closer to reality, though the true sentiment of the entirety of communities targeted for such an annexation is not fully known.
Based on a somewhat-less-than-scientific poll of the business community in the area, there appears to be support for cityhood. Whether that carries over to the citizenry within what would become an alpine municipality is up in the air.
The current effort to unite some of the mountain communities into a city is somewhat less energetic and inclusive than previous proposals in the same neck of the woods. A move to incorporate Lake Arrowhead, which is the most economically vital of the area’s towns, was undertaken more than once. Resident support was tepid on those occasions at best, and none reached fruition.
A more energetic concept materialized a half dozen years ago. At some point after that, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission commissioned Santa Ana-based Rosenow Spevacek Group Inc. to weigh in on the feasibility of unifying the unincorporated communities of Lake Arrowhead, Crestline, Running Springs, Arrowbear, Green Valley Lake, Skyforest, Rim Forest, Twin Peaks, Blue Jay and Cedar Glen into a single 40-square mile city with roughly 32,000 residents.
At that time there was a social issue driving the proposal. The proliferation of sober-living homes and drug-rehabilitation centers in the communities, resulting in tension within the neighborhoods where those facilities are located, had some residents casting about for a fix. Many area residents expressed the belief at the time that the board of supervisors, none of whose members live in the San Bernardino Mountains, had any sensitivity to the issue. Moreover, they said, the county’s permitting and regulation of the drug rehab facilities had proven lax. It was the belief of some that a newly created city would take command of land use policy and zoning to either prohibit or significantly limit such businesses and residential facilities in the area. The sober-living facility issue is not roiling as it once was in that area, but does remain a concern.
Ultimately, the Rosenow Spevacek analysis, which only peripherally touched on land use policies, came to a somewhat ambiguous conclusion with regard to the practical economic viability of the specified communities coalescing into a single unit. The revenue to be generated tax-wise and assessment-wise from within the proposed boundaries would sustain the cost of providing standard municipal services, according to Rosenow Spevacek, though those coffers would not exactly be flush with cash.
In late 2017, an alternate and less ambitious cityhood drive began, an independent movement under the logo of Incorporate Lake Gregory. A volunteer committee, consisting of Bill Mellinger, the pastor of Crestline First Baptist Church; Steve Garcia, the camp director at Thousand Pines Christian Camp; Michael Johnstone, the owner and vice president of Goodwin and Son’s Market; John Short, an attorney based in the area and affiliated with the Crestline/Lake Gregory Chamber of Commerce; and Penny Shubnell, a local senior citizens advocate, formed in November 2017 as a California non-profit organization with the sole purpose of helping with the incorporation of the Lake Gregory area. Johnstone was previously active as a member of Incorporate Lake Arrowhead.
Under consideration for inclusion in the new city are Crestline, Crest Forest, Valley of Enchantment, Cedarpines Park, San Moritz, and Valley of the Moon. The new city would exclude Lake Arrowhead, Blue Jay, Cedar Glen and ArrowBear.
According to Steve Garcia, one of the incorporation proponents, “The map was proposed by the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, and the boundaries determined by influence of the already existing services of both fire and sanitation districts.”
The incorporation effort that began in 2014 extending to Lake Arrowhead, Crestline, Running Springs, Cedarpines Park, Arrowbear, Green Valley Lake, Skyforest, Rim Forest, Twin Peaks, Blue Jay and Cedar Glen which was later abandoned would have led to the creation of a city with a population of roughly 32,000, making it larger than Needles, Big Bear, Grand Terrace, Yucca Valley, Loma Linda, Barstow and Twentynine Palms, such that it would be the seventeenth largest and eighth smallest of what would then be the county’s 25 cities. The more modest designs of Incorporate Lake Gregory, limited as it is to Crestline, Crest Forest, Twin Peaks, Valley of Enchantment, Cedarpines Park, San Moritz, and Valley of the Moon would shrink the proposed new city limits to less than 20 square miles and involve a total population somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,300, per the county’s records, of which roughly 6,500 are registered voters. That would make it the city’s fourth smallest city.
The area in question is on the western side of the San Bernardino Mountains, within the county’s Second Supervisorial District. After the 2010 Census, a portion of what had been the Third Supervisorial District, which previously contained the lion’s share of the San Bernardino Mountains, was moved into the Second District. The San Bernardino Mountains currently boast a single incorporated city, Big Bear, which lies on the eastern side of the mountains in the Third District. Big Bear, with a population of 5,124 is the county’s second smallest city population-wise.
A core of mountain residents seem to believe cityhood is the way to go. They are pushing the concept, and have been checking all of the boxes required to push the process along.
Incorporate Lake Gregory recently conducted an email survey of local Lake Gregory businesses owners. A tally of the responses shows 57.14 percent of participants indicated they were favorably disposed toward the incorporation of the Crestline and Lake Gregory communities. At the same time, 18.37 percent of the responding business owners were opposed to incorporation. Another 24.5 percent were noncommittal, indicating they needed more information to take a position. The polling was non-scientific in that it elicited responses from just over 19 percent of those queried, with 47 responses from a total of 242 emails sent out. The sentiment of the community as a whole is less than clear at present.
Incorporate Lake Gregory has retained the services of Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, who was formerly the executive director of the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, to assist in preparing the application for incorporation, including a finalized financial feasibility study for the issue.
That application, which is required to have signatures obtained from 25 percent of the registered voters within the confines of the area to be incorporated signifying that they want the effort to progress to the next step, will call upon the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission to carry out its own financial feasibility study as to whether the area would be able to sustain itself in terms of defraying the costs of basic services under the auspices of its own governmental entity independent of the county. Those signatures must be obtained within a six-month period. Once underway, the study would require as long as eight months to complete. Thus, whether Incorporate Lake Gregory can meet all of the timelines to qualify a cityhood formation question on the November 2020 ballot is touch and go at this point. An application for cityhood would cost $70,000.
Incorporate Lake Gregory will present a report relating to the preliminary feasibility study on Saturday March 30 at 1 p.m. at the Lake Gregory Community Church, located at 460 Pine Drive in Crestline. A second presentation will be made on Wednesday April 3 at 7 p.m.
-Mark Gutglueck

Fire Destroys Oak Glen Museum

The Mountain Town Reptile Museum in Oak Tree Village in Oak Glen was completely destroyed by fire on March 14.
A first report came in that the roof was aflame around 11:40 a.m. Cal Fire Riverside, Redlands Fire, San Bernardino Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department responded.
Ken Azzato, a local resident, and a number of individuals with the Lutheran Camp moved quickly, and before the safety agency first responders were on the scene, they entered the structure to haul most of the live exhibits – iguanas, tortoises, exotic birds and the like – out and to safety.
There were widespread social media reports that all of the animals had perished in the fire. By the time the fire agencies were on the scene, the building, which was originally erected in 1962, was engulfed in flames and thick smoke, making it impossible to enter the structure. By that point, the lion’s share of the animals were rescued. Some twenty fell victim to the conflagration.

Barstow’s Sales Tax Now County’s Highest

On April 1, the one percent sales tax approved by voters in Barstow in November will go into effect within the 41.33 square mile city through which some 190,000 travelers headed to Las Vegas pass weekly.
There was opposition to Measure Q, including some reasoning by very articulate and determined critics, among them former Mayor Lawrence Dale and council candidate Bennie Fedrick. Nevertheless, the city’s voters were persuaded in sufficient numbers to pass the sales tax override. Measure Q garnered 2,613 votes or 59.22 percent in favor and 1,799 votes or 40.78 percent in opposition.
City officials denied responsibility for that element of the pro-Measure Q campaign consisting of reports that the city was on the brink of filing for bankruptcy, but they nevertheless stood solidly behind the measure. The city’s 141 employees, the most poorly paid of whom make at least $90,000 annually in salaries and benefits, were a factor in getting the city’s voters, composed of a population that involved no fewer than 70 percent of whom are receiving some form of governmental financial assistance, to get behind augmenting the city’s revenue stream.
When the tax goes into effect, Barstow will lay claim to having, at 8.75-percent, the highest sales tax rate in San Bernardino County.
The supporters of Measure Q were nonchalant about that, insisting that $7 million annual revenue boost will be paid in the largest measure by those non-residents blowing through town, primarily Vegas-bound tourists.
That revenue will flow into the city for the first time in June. The tax is not applicable to groceries, prescription medicine or services. It does apply to all other goods, fuel and prepared food or meals sold at restaurants as well as equipment that is leased.
City officials are salivating at the prospect of divvying up the lucre. The fire department and the police department will complete for some of what is coming in to hire more employees and open more stations, and purchase updated equipment. The city’s public works division anticipates being able to utilize some of the money for roads and sidewalks, and some will likely go to augmentations or repairs to the city’s aquatic center, replacement of park and recreation equipment.
That distribution is to be made in accordance with an “implementation plan,” and though city employees will have the greatest degree of influence on how that budgeting is worked out, the city intends to created a citizens’ oversight committee to monitor how the funds are utilized.
-Mark Gutglueck

Sheriff’s Department Bucking California’s Marijuana Liberalization Trend

In the face of California’s seismic cultural shift that was solidified with the state’s voters passing Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office is hewing to the traditional ethos that considers the proliferation of cannabis to be anathema to an orderly community.
For roughly a century, California law was in consonance with the federal ban on marijuana, and California residents using the drug, possessing it, growing it, transporting it or selling it ran considerable legal risk. With the Pure Food and Drug Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1906, the easy availability of marijuana ended, and the California legislature’s 1907 passage of the Poison Act made possession of the substance a misdemeanor. The Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act, the final version of which was passed in 1932, made marijuana uniformly illegal throughout the United States. 1970’s Controlled Substances Act and its parallel Comprehensive Drug Abuse Control and Prevention Act of 1970 intensified the classification of marijuana as an illegal substance.
In 1996 the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, by California’s voters made the sale of marijuana for medical purposes legal in the state, but the parameters of that law and the superseding authority of federal law, under which marijuana remained a Schedule 1 narcotic considered as dangerous as heroin and cocaine and subject to very stiff federal penalties, did not create an immediate proliferation of marijuana hawkers. Indeed, a provision of Proposition 215 gave local governmental entities the authority to continue to prohibit the commercial sale of the drug within their jurisdictions. For fifteen years after the proposition’s passage, all of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities continued to ban the sale of the substance. Well into the first decade of the Third Millennium, a handful of intrepid entrepreneurs attempted to test the will of the political leadership and the resolve of law enforcement by setting up dispensaries. This brought, for the most part, an immediate response involving in some cases prosecution, in others confiscation of the product and monetary proceeds on hand, the shuttering of the business, and administrative action and fines which rendered such enterprises unprofitable. In a handful of cases where the operators persisted, the measures employed by the government were harsher and draconian, as in the celebrated case of Aaron Sandusky.
Maintaining that the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act gave him an absolute right to traffic in medical marijuana, Sandusky opened up a series of dispensaries in San Bernardino County which obtained the product it sold from a large indoor nursery he also operated in the City of Ontario. His largest and most successful retail shop was G3 Holistics, a dispensary he established in Upland. Repeatedly, Upland officials raided G3 Holistics, carting off whatever stock was on hand and seizing that particular day’s monetary proceeds from sales, issuing a citation and a closure order. Defiantly, Sandusky would reopen G3 Holistics, often the next day, or at most within several days. After repeated rounds of this, Sandusky put his not inconsiderable income from his business to work, sending a lawyer into court on his behalf to oppose the city’s action, succeeding in getting a restraining order enjoining the City of Upland from any further action against him until the legal challenge he brought against the city could be fully adjudicated. He remained open for business, generating sufficient capital by sales to some 17,000 customers to wage a legal battle against the city in which he essentially fought the city to a standstill, during which time he continued to make money hand over fist.
Meanwhile, the City of Upland accrued over $440,000 in legal fees in pursuing the unsuccessful effort to drive him out of the city. Ultimately, federal officials took note, and in June 2012 raided all of Sandusky’s clinics and agricultural facilities, thereafter initiating a prosecution. At trial, Sandusky insisted that California law pursuant to Proposition 215 gave him the right to ply his trade, and he asserted he had relied upon a campaign pledge made by then-President Barack Obama that his administration would not interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The prosecution team, however, countered that Sandusky was an “unrepentant manipulator who used the perceived ambiguity surrounding ‘medical’ marijuana to abuse the state’s system on a massive scale and exploit a business opportunity for himself.” He was convicted and in January 2013 he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
The social, political and legal forces arrayed against the concept and prospect of marijuana availability seemed, with the Sandusky conviction, to have stemmed the rising tide of marijuana liberalism in California. But that reversal came as too little too late, for by that time the tide had grown to Tsunami proportions and the victory over Sandusky, on a practical scale, was barely symbolic and in no way effective. What had initially been fewer than a dozen individuals including Sandusky willing to brave the legitimate marijuana sales frontier – running a medical marijuana dispensary in local venues where municipal ordinances did not allow for them – jumped to a score or more. Shortly thereafter the numbers countywide were pushing a hundred.
Simultaneously, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and in some cases the offices of various city attorneys sought to keep up. By 2012, however, the sheer numbers of those willing to run the marijuana distribution restriction gauntlet had come to overwhelm local civil authorities. In 2012, Needles was the first of the county’s 24 cities to bow to the new social reality, clearing the way for five licensed marijuana dispensaries to operate in what, at 4,900 residents, is the county’s least populous city, lying at the extreme end of San Bernardino County on California’s East Coast, the banks of the Colorado River, and the gateway into the Golden State.
With cannabis use mushrooming, the district attorney’s office de-prioritized simple marijuana possession cases and delayed filing on or ultimately failed altogether to file on criminal cases relating to the operation of medical marijuana clinics, leaving such matters to be handled civilly. In some cases, well-heeled clinic operators put those cities through their paces, a la Sandusky, requiring vast expenditures in terms of public resources, money and effort in shuttering dispensaries. When authorities would achieve victory in shutting one down, two or more would pop up to take its place. In July 2014, San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz, taking stock of the number of pot shops sprouting up in the county’s largest city, offered his view that the cost and difficulty of closing down dispensaries made the city’s ban on the enterprises that had existed since 2010 “futile.” Similar scenarios on a somewhat smaller scale were playing out at other locations in San Bernardino County.
In 2016, Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which allows the drug to be sold to end users intent on using it for its intoxicative effect, was passed by the state’s voters. The same year, the City of San Bernardino’s voters passed Measure O, mandating that marijuana shops be licensed to operate in the city.
As things now stand, the cities of Adelanto, Hesperia, Colton, Needles, San Bernardino, Rialto, Victorville and Montclair allow or tolerate some level of commercial cannabis activity. In Adelanto, marijuana-related commercial concerns are so numerous, city officials cannot provide an accurate count of them. In San Bernardino, sixteen cannabis-related operations have been given tentative clearance to operate. There are at least five other storefront operations that are not licensed which the city tolerates. After would-be licensees in San Bernardino who were denied permits last month went to court to block the city from proceeding with the full licensing of those cleared to operate dispensaries, nurseries and distributorships, one Superior Court judge, Janet Frangie, granted and then another judge, David Coen, lifted a restraining order against the businesses. Judge Coen has given the city clearance to continue with the licensing process.
Grudgingly, most San Bernardino county cities and towns allow their residents to grow up to six marijuana plants, per state law indoors. In addition, Adelanto, Big Bear, Chino Hills and San Bernardino permit cultivation outdoors under a set of regulations.
Though at least 16 San Bernardino County municipalities have standing bans against all level of commercial cannabis activity including the delivery of the product within their city or town limits, in Chino Hills four companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Chino four companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Ontario five companies deliver marijuana to residents, in Montclair five companies deliver marijuana to residents, in Upland three companies deliver marijuana to residents, in Rancho Cucamonga five companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Fontana ten companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Rialto four companies deliver marijuana to residents, in Colton two companies deliver marijuana to residents, in San Bernardino 12 companies deliver marijuana to residents and the city permits delivery service operations to be based within its city limits; in Highland five companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Redlands seven companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Yucaipa six companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Yucca Valley six companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Barstow five companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Victorville eight companies deliver marijuana to residents; in Apple Valley five companies deliver marijuana to residents; and in Hesperia seven companies deliver marijuana to residents, and the city permits delivery service operations to be based within its city limits.
In Montclair there is one storefront purveyor of marijuana; in the unincorporated district of Bloomington near Fontana and Rialto there are three storefronts trafficking in marijuana; in Rialto there are two storefronts trafficking in marijuana; in San Bernardino at present there are five storefront marijuana sales operations, none of which have licenses but which the city tolerates; the City of Big Bear Lake has one storefront dealing in marijuana; Needles has five licensed storefront sellers of marijuana; Victorville has one storefront at which marijuana can be purchased; and Adelanto, with two official storefronts licensed to sell marijuana and cannabis products, is host to at least 18 other locations where marijuana can be purchased.
Despite all that, four days from now, on Tuesday April 2, 2019, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is scheduled, upon the recommendation of Sheriff John McMahon, to sign a letter of agreement that is to be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Agency, signalling that the county will take part in the 2019 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.
In return for signing that letter and related documents, the county will receive $151,000 to offset the sheriff’s department’s costs growing out of its participation in the federal crusade to clamp down on marijuana between October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019.
According to McMahon, the sheriff’s department has been participating in and has received federal money for the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program since 1999, three years after the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act was passed.
Without making reference to the sea change in state policy and state law that has taken place since 2016, McMahon in a report attached to the board of supervisors’ agenda for this coming Tuesday stated, “The U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration provides funding for the Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program each year to defray the county’s costs relating to eradication and suppression of illicit marijuana. This program serves activities involved in the suppression of illicit marijuana, including gathering and reporting intelligence data related to the illicit cultivation, possession and distribution of cannabis; investigation and reporting of instances involving the trafficking of controlled substances; and making arrests and referring cases for prosecution. On February 22, 2019, the department received a letter of agreement from the Drug Enforcement Agency providing notification of available funding in the amount of $151,000 to reimburse expenses related to the department’s participation in the 2019 Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. The agreement is being submitted for the board’s approval at the first available meeting date after completion of the review process. The proposed agreement would provide funding to be used for overtime, travel, training, aviation fuel, and supplies to support the department’s marijuana suppression program. The Department of Justice requires the county to send the signed letter of agreement to the Drug Enforcement Agency for execution. The letter of agreement is for the period of October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. The department can submit claims for reimbursement retroactively to October 1, 2018. However, there have been no expenditures against this program to date.”
Legal issues relating to the sheriff’s department’s involvement in the federal program against the backdrop of rapidly changing state law which has in large measure decriminalized marijuana cultivation, sales, possession and use were reviewed by Deputy County Counsel Richard D. Luczak.
-Mark Gutglueck

Barstow LL Parents Teach Their AV Counterparts A Thing Or Two About Gang Fighting

It was Barstow vs. Apple Valley both on the diamond at Field 1 at James Woody Park and off on March 23. The players, all of whom were Little Leaguers between the ages of eight and 12, confined their competition to the game of baseball. Those competing outside the foul lines were adults, the parents of the players on the field. Word is the Apple Valley Nine won the baseball game. The Barstow parents prevailed in the fisticuffs division, aided, no doubt, by at least two of the parents who did not scruple about employing baseball bats during their contribution to the melee.
The rowdiness started with a vociferous Barstow parent who was more than once told to restrain himself and sit down. At some point, reportedly in the fifth inning, he was ejected from the premises. He left Field 1 but just as the game was concluding he returned, as it was understood he would be able to pick up his son. But when he made his way toward the bleachers with his wife in tow, he had a baseball bat with him. He exhorted several of the parents of his son’s teammates that they should not docilely accept being disrespected by the Apple Valley community, managing to stir up some level of indignation among the visiting Barstowians. When he confronted the coach of the Apple Valley Little League team, using a tirade of profanity in the process, a fight broke out in which those on the Apple Valley side, despite their larger numbers, got the worst of it because they did not realize until it was too late that the ground rules for the fracas included the use of baseball bats.
The psychology of crowds appears to have been at play, and alcohol use by the parent who was ejected may have been a factor as well. A century ago, Barstow, a major railroad town, ranked as one of San Bernardino County’s five major cities. As late as the 1950s, it was the only incorporated desert city other than Needles, and was then a more substantial place than the communities of Victorville, Hesperia, Apple Valley and Adelanto. In the years since, Barstow has been eclipsed population-wise by all four of those, which are now municipalities in their own right. Some 70 percent of the Barstow population are recipients of some form of public assistance. In this way, many who live in the city have a built-in inferiority complex and walk about with chips on their shoulders when they must encounter those from outside the immediate Barstow environs. Barstow sports teams have in recent years taken on a reputation for bringing with them fans and supporters who are prone to violence at the drop of a hat.
Apple Valley, with its air of civility and its municipal code that provides that houses be built on lots no smaller than one half acre, may lay claim to being the jewel of the High Desert in terms of livability. Its residents, nevertheless, proved to be no match for the more determined and socially disadvantaged cudgel-wielding visitors from Barstow, who demonstrated they are not going to gladly suffer the indignity of biased umpiring by hometown officials resulting in their progeny being declared out on a late throw to the bag when the runner was clearly safe, no matter how much money the upper crust locals have.
Authorities were summoned, but by the time the sheriff’s department arrived, all but one family from Barstow had departed James Woody Park. That family’s leaving had been delayed because the 17-year-old sister of one of the Barstow Little League team’s players had been injured in the tumult. She accepted treatment by paramedics with the Apple Valley Fire Protection District, but neither she, her brother nor her parents could be persuaded by sheriff’s deputies to finger any of the Barstow residents involved in the brawl. They were allowed to leave and no arrests were made of any of the remaining parents from Apple Valley who were yet on the scene, though some had made statements that could be construed as admissions they were involved in the fight.

Barstow Sales Tax

BARSTOW —On April 1, the one percent sales tax apprved by voters in Barstow in November will go into effect within the 41.33 square mile city through which some 190,000 trvelers headed to Vegas pass weekly.

There was opposition to Measure Q, including some reasoning by very articulate and determined critics, among them former Mayor Lawrence Dale and council candidate Bennie Fedrick. Nevertheless, the city’s voters were persuaded in sufficent numbers to pass the sales tax override. Measure Q garnered 2,613 votes or 59.22 percent in favor and 1,799 votes or 40.78 percent in oppostion.

City officials denied responsibility for that element of the pro-Measure Q campaign consisting of reports that the city was on the brink of filing for bankruptcy, but they nevertheless stood solidly behind the measure. The city’s 141 employees, the most poorly paid of whom make at least $90,000 annually in salaries and benefits, were a factor in getting the city’s voters, composed of a population that involved no fewer than 70 percent of whom are receiving some form of governmental financial assistance, to get behind augmenting the city’s revenue stream.

When the tax goes into effect, Barstow will lay claim to having, at 8.75-percent, the highest sales tax rate, in San Bernardino County.

The supporters of Measure Q were nonchalant about that, insisting that $7 million annual revenue boost will be paid in the largest measure by those non-residents blowing through town, primarily Vegas-bound tourists.

That revenue will flow into the city for the first time in June. The tax is not applicable to groceries, prescription medicine or services. It does apply to all other goods, fuel and prepared food or meals sold at restaurnats as well as equipment that is leased.

City officials are salivating at the prospect of divying up the lucre. The fire department and the police department will complete for some of what is coming in to hire more employees and open more stations, and purchase updated equipment. The city’s public works division anticpates being able to utilize some of the money for roads and sidewalks, and some will likely go to augmentations or repairs to the caty’s aquatic center, replacement of park and recreation equipment.

That distriibtuion is to be made in accordance with an “implementation plan,” and though city employees will have the greatest degree of influence on how that budgeting is worked out, the city intends to created a citizens’ oversight committee to monitor how the funds are utilized.


Juan Figueroa

Former Third Ward City Councilman John Valdivia’s victory in the November 2018 San Bernardino Mayoral Election necessitated his resignation from his council position when he was sworn in as mayor on December 19. As a consequence, the Third Ward post has been vacant ever since, resulting in the city council being down to six-sevenths strength and the city’s residents, property owners and businesses in the city’s southernmost sector being without a direct representative on the city council.
There were two years remaining on Valdivia’s term as councilman, and city officials have opted to fill the post through a special vote-by-mail election which concludes May 7. Three registered voters in the ward signed on to compete for the council position: Anthony Aguirre, Juan Figueroa and Treasure Ortiz. Ultimately, Aguirre decided against running, but not before the ballots for the election had been printed. Consequently, the names of all three are on the ballots that have been mailed to registered voters.
Figueroa this week told the Sentinel he is seeking a position on the city council because “As a lifelong San Bernardino resident who grew up in the 3rd Ward, I am deeply invested in our city’s future. I want to see San Bernardino become a place of greater opportunity for our families, our youth and our small businesses.”
A member of the city’s Elected Official Compensation Advisory Commission, Figueroa enumerated three major issues facing the city. With regard to public safety he said, “Making our community safer will be my #1 priority on the city council. That means improving police response times, targeting gang crime and cleaning up blighted properties.” He further said, “I will work to create a better quality of life for all residents by reducing homelessness and getting city streets and street lights repaired in a timely manner. In addition, I want to help struggling local families by reducing the costs of housing.” Moreover, he said accountability will be the watchword of his campaign. “I am committed to making city government more accountable and responsive to residents’ concerns,” he said. “We must always put the people first at City Hall.”
Queried about his feeling with regard to the city’s dissolution in 2015 of its then 137-year-old fire department in favor of placing the city into a county fire service assessment zone and having the county fire division assume fire prevention, fire suppression and emergency medical response duties throughout the 62-sqare mile city, Figueroa said, “I am pleased with San Bernardino’s current system of fire protection. As a councilman, I would not support rescinding the city’s agreement with the San Bernardino County Fire District.”
Figueroa signaled his satisfaction with the performance levels of city staff, indicating he would not be willing to restrict current or future salary increases to the city’s workers as a means of controlling the city’s continuing financial challenges, more than six-and-a-half years after the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection and less than two years after emerging from that status by means of an exit strategy that included stiffing a significant number of the city’s past vendors and creditors, while committing to maintaining its current and future payments to the California Public Employees Retirement System, which covers the ongoing provision of pensions to the city’s retired employees.
“I would not support a blanket freeze on city employee salaries and benefits,” Figueroa said.
Simultaneously, he said that he hoped the city could hold itself together without imposing additional taxes on the city’s residents.
“In general, I oppose increasing taxes,” he said. “I believe San Bernardino must strengthen our financial and economic foundations by attracting new businesses and helping our existing businesses grow, not by raising taxes on our existing businesses, residents or utility ratepayers.”
He is qualified to serve on the council, Figueroa said, in that “I have been walking neighborhoods throughout the 3rd Ward since early February, and residents are supporting my candidacy because of my long history of involvement as a neighborhood association president; community volunteer; and city commissioner. I am endorsed by community leaders throughout the 3rd Ward.”
He said, “I am running a positive campaign on my own record and have no interest in contrasting my qualifications with those of other candidates.”
Regarding questions about issues that have cropped up with regard to the city’s licensing of cannabis-related businesses, accusations of mishandling and favoritism in the determination of licensure eligibility by city staff and elected officials, as well as questions pertaining to the performance of the city’s management echelon in general, Figueroa said that “because the cannabis question is currently the subject of litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it because of my current position as a city commissioner. I also hold the same position regarding questions about city staff management, staff changes and work ethic, due to my position as a city commissioner.”
-Mark Gutglueck