Graft Suspicions Dog Yucaipa Council Following Land Sale Maneuvers

By Mark Gutglueck
Questions remain about not only the propriety but the legality of the City of Yucaipa’s move to once again sell off for development property that was donated to the Yucaipa community two generations ago by the Finkelstein Brothers for the express purpose of public rather than private use.
Last week, the Yucaipa Planning Commission cleared the way for the Yucaipa City Council to sell off for the second time in less than a year land that for 52 years has been designated exclusively and what was said to have been irrevocably for use as parkland or variously for educational or public institutional purposes.
At the March 25, 2019 Yucaipa City Council meeting, the council approved the sale of 0.87 acres at the northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street to JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. for $500,000. That property is located east of the Crafton Hills Fire Station on the same parcel which included the footprint upon which the fire station was sited.
In 1964, Ruben and Lester Finkelstein gave indication that they would potentially provide, through their foundation, property upon which a community college in the then-unincorporated community of Yucaipa would be built. In 1966, the Finklesteins made good on that offer with an initial donation of 167 acres, following that original bequest with the provision of 76 more acres in 1970 and subsequently donating 251 acres of additional land.
Those donations entailed deed restrictions that limited the use of the land to those for charitable, educational and recreational purposes. A significant portion of the donated land was used for the campus of Crafton Hills College, which opened in 1972. When the City of Yucaipa incorporated in 1989, title to the remainder of the property not comprising the college campus transferred to the city. The deed restrictions remained in effect.
The land in the general vicinity of the college over the years has been utilized for public purposes, including one of the city’s sports complexes, which is administered by the Yucaipa Parks and Recreation District.
On November 19. 2018, the city received a letter from JADE Real Estate Holdings that expressed interest in purchasing 0.87 acres of property located at the northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street. JADE’s intention related to possible commercial development of the property. Shortly thereafter, during a closed session at its December 9, 2018 meeting, the city council gave direction to staff, despite the deed restriction relating to the property, to pursue disposition of the parcel.
For the property to developed commercially, the deed restriction had to be removed.
At the Yucaipa City Council meeting on March 25, 2019, a consideration of what that evening’s agenda designated as “the disposition of city property: 0,87 acre parcel, northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street (portion of assessor parcel number 299-321-62)” took place.
In a report to the city council relating to the item, Paul Toomey, Yucaipa’s director of community development, wrote that he recommended the city council “Find the city disposition of a portion of assessor parcel number 299-321-62 is consistent with the general plan; and adopt a categorical exemption pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 guidelines; and direct staff to file a notice of exemption; and approve the sale of city-owned property located at the northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street, further defined as a portion of assessor parcel number 299-321-62, for an amount of $500,000 to JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc.; and authorize staff to establish an amount from the proceeds of the sale of the property sufficient to pay the city’s share of closing costs and expenses; and authorize the city manager to make any necessary non-substantive revisions and execute a purchase and sale agreement and other necessary documentation in order to complete the property disposition process; and allocate the net proceeds from the sale to the general fund one time capital projects fund for recreational facility improvements.”
Anticipating that the city council was amenable to designating the 0.87 acres as “surplus property” which could be sold, Toomey asserted in the body of the report that a necessary requisite of the rescission of the deed restriction on the property had been met. “In July 2018, the Finkelstein heirs executed a termination of deed restriction, permitting the property to be developed as proposed, subject to the condition that the net proceeds from the sale of the land be used for recreational purposes,” Toomey wrote in the report. Nowhere in the report, dated, March 25, 2019, did Toomey explain how it was that someone with the city had the prescience to obtain the termination of deed restriction from the Finkelstein heirs in July 2018, some four months before JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. sent the city a letter indicating its interest in purchasing the property.
This month, at its December 18 meeting, the Yucaipa Planning Commission took up a proposal that the city make a  minor general plan amendment to change the land use designation of approximately 1.67 acres adjacent to the Crafton Hills Fire Station, yet another portion of the land gifted to the community by the Finkelstein Brothers, to general commercial zoning. The land use designation change requested is to impact portions of vacant property adjacent to 32664 Yucaipa Boulevard, referred to as assessor parcel numbers 0299-321-61, 84 and 85. The 1.67 acres of land is proximate to the 0.87 acres sold to JADE near the corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street. One of the lots Is east of the Crafton Hills Fire Station, and the other west of the fire station.
As part of the March 25, 2019 action, the city council approved along with the sale agreement a land use designation/zoning change that was applicable to the 0.87 acre piece. Last week the planning commission recommended that the city council make the same change to the two other parcels totaling 1.67 acres.
In his capacity as director of community development, Toomey recommended that the planning commission upon conducting a public hearing on December 18 adopt a resolution approving the general plan amendment/land use district change to alter the zoning on both pieces on either side of the fire station to general commercial, make the necessary amendments to reflect the change in the city’s zoning ordinance and find that the commercial project to be built on the property is exempt from the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, despite the consideration that no specific use for the site or sites is planned.
The planning commission did as recommended by Toomey.
Questions attend the city’s action. At issue is whether the city, as the inheritor of the property donated under conditions specified by Ruben and Lester Finkelstein, can defy the Finkelstein Brothers’ wishes as articulated in the  deed restriction. Moreover, the timing of sale of the 0.87 acres to JADE,Real Estate Holdings, Inc., four months after JADE made an overture to the city to buy the property, which followed by four months the alleged execution of the termination of deed restriction by the Finkelstein heirs, has pushed some Yuciapa residents to the conclusion that the sales arrangement was riddled with fraud. At issue is the influence that JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. has over Yucaipa city officials.
JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. is registered in Wyoming as a corporation and in California as a foreign limited-liability company. The filing with the California secretary of state’s office was made on April 9, 2018. The registered agent on file for the company in California is Debra Hanna, with the company headquartered at 25772 Lawton, Loma Linda, California 92354. The company’s principal address is 25772 Lawton in Loma Linda. The company has two principals on record, Hanna, who is shown as residing in Loma Linda, and Janet Jones, who lives in Redlands.
While Jade Real Estate Holdings, LLC was the purchaser of the 0.87-acre parcel, the purchaser or purchaser of the two parcels totaling 1.67 acres has or have yet to be identified, though it has been suggested JADE is the intended buyer.
Persistent suggestions are that JADE or its principals have provided inducements to Yucaipa city officials to obtain the city’s consent to sell the property.
For reasons that are not clear, Yucaipa  Deputy City Manager/City Clerk Jennifer Crawford has elected to not post the campaign disclosure filings of Yucaipa’s mayor and city council members on the city’s website, making a determination of whether JADE, Hanna or Jones have made monetary contributions to the campaigns of Yucaipa Mayor David Avila, and council members Denise Allen, Greg Bogh, Bobby Duncan and Dick Riddell difficult.
Nor has Crawford posted on the city’s website the mayor’s or council members’ statements of economic interest, which would reveal if any of the city’s elected leadership has received money from JADE other than campaign donations.

Hesperia Extends It Moratorium On Further Marijuana Delivery Licenses

Hesperia city officials, who in September 2017 consented to their city becoming the third of San Bernasrdino County’s 24 municipalities to cash in on the liberalization of California’s marijuana laws, more than two years later are seriously rethinking that action, for a variety of reasons.
Twenty-seven months ago, the city council as it was then composed consented to the creation of a so-called “green zone,” lying primarily between I Avenue and the railroad tracks and just north of Main Street to Bear Valley Road where businesses delivering marijuana to their customers could set up bases of operation, what were essentially warehouses at which no on-site retail sales could take place. In response, the city was met with a swarm of more than fifty applicants to open set up such enterprises.
Last month, on November 19, the city council voted unanimously to place a hold on those businesses that had not yet fully made it through the application and permitting process. That left an even dozen cannabis-product distribution enterprises already up and running within the City of Progress, and leaving 32 would-be marijuana entrepreneurs hanging in limbo.
Another 11 would-be or actual marijuana traffickers between September 2017 and earlier this year applied and either went a considerable way through the application process or completed it and began operating. In one fashion or another, however, those businesses failed to meet all of the city’s requirements to begin operation or failed to meet the city’s specified “milestones” after they began operation, so their applications have been either denied or withdrawn or their operating licenses revoked.
The September 2017 action permitting non-storefront delivery businesses to operate within a narrow zone in the city followed by ten months the State of California’s passage of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which permitted those 21 years of age and older to use marijuana for its intoxicative effect, a reversal of California law that had been in effect basically since 1907. Proposition 64 allowed local jurisdictions to continue too ban the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. Since the passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, in 1996, the use of marijuana by individuals with a valid prescription for it from a doctor was permitted in California. Like Proposition 64, Proposition 215 carried with it a provision that local jurisdictions could continue to ban the sale of the drug within their boundaries. Hesperia, like virtually every other city in San Bernardino County had continued to prohibit the sale of medical marijuana.
The first two San Bernardino County cities to accommodate medical marijuana users had been Needles in 2012 and Adelanto in 2015.
When Hesperia bowed to the evolving legal and social attitude toward marijuana in 2017, it did so in a relatively limited fashion. It did not embrace the sale of marijuana for its use as an intoxicant, but rather as medicine. Moreover, it did not permit the sales it was condoning to take place on the premises of the cannabis-related businesses, but rather limited those operations to ones that delivered the substance.
Under the city’s ordinance pertaining to marijuana/cannabis use, possession and business passed in September 2017, outdoor cultivation was prohibited, commercial cultivation was prohibited and residents were permitted to grow up to six plants indoors under secure settings for personal use allowed in accordance with state law if the cultivation was registered with, and a fee paid to, the city. The ordinance allowed marijuana to be delivered and sold only for medical purposes, under a doctor’s prescription, from businesses with bases of operations or warehouses located in the zone specified by the city for that purpose. The exchange of the product for money, under the ordinance, must take place indoors, and the loading of marijuana/cannabis for delivery must take place at the rear of the warehouse.  The display of merchandise is prohibited and delivery vehicles cannot bear markings and/or logos.
A business trafficking in marijuana or cannabis had to have both a delivery dispensary permit and a city business license. A mmarijuana delivery warehouse is required to have security cameras, an alarm system, lighting and a ventilation system.
Marijuana sales were subject to state and local taxes, with an exception for marijuana classified as a pharmaceutical not being subject to state sales tax. Operators are subject to a host of business, administrative, licensing and inspection fees.
The council that approved the 2017 ordinance consisted of Mayor Russ Blewett and council members Bill Holland, Larry Bird, Paul Russ and Rebekah Swanson.
In May 2018, Blewett died and was replaced as mayor by Holland. Jeremiah Brosowske was selected to fill the gap on the council and was elected to serve on the council in his own right in the November 2018 election. In that same election, Holland was reelected and Russ was defeated by Cameron Gregg. Bird succeeded Holland in the role of mayor. This year, in September, Brosowske was removed from the council by a vote of his colleagues, with Holland, Bird and Gregg voting to depose him, with Swanson and Brosowske in opposition. He was replaced with Brigit Bennington.
One of the issues driving the removal of Brosowske from the council was his support of a recall effort against Holland that manifested earlier this year. Brosowske’s support of that recall came despite Holland’s vote in July 2018 to appoint Brosowske to the city council.
Though Brosowske had begun his career in elected office as a member in good standing of the Republican Party, which fit within Hesperia’s political milieu, he revealed himself while in office to identify more readily as a libertarian who was willing to embrace the economic opportunities presented by the legalization and local availability and sale of marijuana and cannabis products. This clashed with the prevailing Republican ethos, which hewed toward considering marijuana to be a substance that lends itself to being antithetical to an ordered society. His readiness to allow the commercialization of marijuana in Hesperia attracted to him the support of a large contingent of those marijuana entrepreneurs who saw establishing a marijuana distribution operation as a way of getting their foot in the door so they might parlay that status into cultivation, retail, refinement, product manufacturing, treatment/therapy and research operations when the city further liberalized its stance with regard to marijuana. That support included providing electioneering money to Brosowske and the political causes he embraced. Thus, through Brosowske’s association with the effort to recall Holland, it appeared that the nascent marijuana industry in Hesperia was by extension bankrolling the effort to oust Holland from the council by means of the recall. Brososwske, through his attorney, Chad Morgan, is contesting his removal and is seeking reinstatement to the position he was elected to in 2018. Once reestablished in office, it is Brosowske’s intent to remove, one by one, his colleagues who voted to disenfranchise him. The other members of the city council – Bird, Swanson, Gregg, and now Bennington – have come to perceive the clique of Hesperia’s marijuana entrepreneurs as an existential political threat, given their willingness to pool their resources and back candidates to oppose them to establish a regime that will tolerate not only the operation of marijuana warehouses and distribution businesses, but storefront operations selling the drug for not only medical but recreational use.
Though the council has been loathe to make public expression of that concern, preventing the growth of the marijuana-based business community within the city and empowering it with the ability to make a substantial amount of money, a portion of which can then be devoted to installing elected city leadership more amenable to the expansion of the cannabis industry in Hersperia than the current council was a primary consideration in instituting the suspension of the marijuana business application and permitting process.
In putting the moratorium in place, city officials insisted they were doing so because the city’s costs in processing the applications and vetting the applicants, monitoring and regulating the operations, as well as keeping track of the myriad of issues they create are outrunning any revenue the businesses are producing. They indicated the prospect of having even more such businesses in addition to the 12 currently in place – another 32 for what is anticipated to be at least 44 marijuana distributorships – will overwhelm City Hall even further. While the city as of last month had realized something in the neighborhood of $100,000 in application and permit fees and taxes collected from cannabis-related operations and business applicants since February, that is well below the more than $300,000 and as much as $400,000 that commercial marijuana advocates had confidently predicted the city would net in the first year of the businesses’ operations. According to City Manager Nils Bentsen, seven of the city’s 12 marijuana delivery operations are currently delinquent in paying the taxes they owe to the city.
Moreover, the Sentinel has learned that there are grounds to conclude that at least four of the city’s delivery operations, which essentially operate on an “honor system,” are substantially underreporting their sales proceeds.
Agendized for the December 17 Hesperia City Council meeting was a discussion of the city’s commercial cannabis program. What ensued turned out to be a cacophony of different perceptions and the clashing of perspectives and cultures. Those from the cannabis industry and the advocates for marijuanizing Hesperia even further ranged from those saying the city should simply follow through on processing the applications of, and granting permits to, those applying to set up delivery business to others who said the city should allow a full range of cannabis-related enterprises to flourish. They ran headlong into those who believe the Hesperia’s brave experimentation with the commercialization of what was formerly an illegal substance had reached its end, and that the city should extend its temporary ban on processing further marijuana-based businesses applications into a permanent one.
Sam Kameade, who described himself as “the founder and operator of Flamin’ Leaf, one of the applicants in the system that’s being disadvantaged,” told the council that marijuana is the panacea to its financial woes. “My intention is not to disparage the council,” Kameade said. “However, the city has serious issues to contend with and only with a boost in operating revenues can the city successfully attack these issues. Short of issuing municipal bonds, at the precipice of a global financial collapse, a robust but thoughtfully regulated cannabis delivery industry is not only recession resistant, but it provides the city with much needed revenue from sales within the boundary. The benefits compound exponentially as the Hesperia cannabis tax is ostensibly an export tax on the delivered goods. Imagine if the city could get a bonus every time an auto parts shop delivered a set of brakes from Hesperia to Temecula. Imagine if you got four percent on every auto part that was sold from here to another city. That would be an incredible amount of money. You have that opportunity here. Don’t run away from the money that’s being placed. Patients win because they have safe access. The city wins because they receive a bounty of tax revenue from an out-of-sight, out-of-mind industry, and the community culture is preserved because you don’t have storefronts with garish neon pot leaves and you also end up with a significant reduction of illicit operators supplying contaminated product. Forty-four licenced operators, based off my knowledge of being in the industry almost 15 years, will have almost 14 employees each, meaning two managers, three inventory clerks, two dispatch people, five drivers and two security guards. If we had no black market, just had this sort of Utopian society where everything was registered and regulated and the 44 operators were open 12 hours daily, using only two vehicles making three deliveries per hour averaging $50 per delivery, the sales would be $50 million and some change. The tax revenue to the city would be over $2 million. If you have 44 operators in the city. two vehicles, each, that’s 88 vehicles. Eighty-eight vehicles needing $2,500 a year in maintenance, that’s $220,000 a year spent on service centers around Hesperia, boosting the local economy. Eighty-eight vehicles at $40 a day in gas, gasoline expenses $1,284,800, spent at local gas stations.  That’s a huge amount of money that local businesses could be getting from a licensed industry. Six hundred-and-sixteen employees by $10 per day in general expenses, food, drink, entertainment, is $2,24,400 in additional revenue to the movie theaters, to the restaurants, to whoever, to the convenience stores. Forty-four operators at $11,000 permits minimum, that’s a half of a million dollars. We know that already. 4Forty-four operators with $50,000 minimum in tenant improvements; that’s $2.2 million in local construction money that’s not going to show up now. That’s $2.2 million in jobs. Here’s the number you really need to consider: 3,395 is the number of Hesperia employees who expect the city council to protect their pensions. The pension debt in Hesperia right now is $2,100 per household to balance your pension deficit. The Hesperia pension fund is predicted to be $2.2 million short in the 2025-26 fiscal year. In addition, there’s 137 alcohol permits currently issued in the City of Hesperia. That’s one for every 695 residents. Potentially, 44 deliveries is one for every 2,165.”
Kameade argued the city should license those applicants seeking to legitimize their cannabis distribution business operations to eradicate marijuana bootleggers.
“Illicit operator are running rampant in the city, which is why you guys need to elevate as many people [marijuana business applicants] as possible,” Kameade said.
Several Hesperia residents who had no financial interest in the either already up-and-running or yet-under-consideration cannabis operations said they considered the sheer volume of existing, and the backlog of potential, marijuana businesses to have “oversaturated” the area where they are currently permitted and the city as a whole, representing “overkill.”
Kelly Gregg, the father of Councilman Cameron Gregg and Hesperia School Board Member Cody Gregg, said “We’ve had our song and dance. We’ve been wowed and dazzled with how much money is going to be spent in the city and I’m sitting back there thinking ‘Why do all these delivery people want to do business in the City of Hesperia? Can’t they go to Victorville? Adelanto? Phelan?’ So, I’m curious as to what’s so spectacular about our city, unless we’re so open and available in processing applications so fast that they can come in and do business in the city. I’m definitely pro-business, but I think putting 78 Ford dealerships in the City of Hesperia is really kind of out of our scope. How much different product can you get from a dealership? You can get maybe high octane engines from one or better fuel consumption from another, but really, in reality, how much more do we need? So, to me, I think we are being used as a hub. That product is going to be delivered out of Hesperia. No bones about it. Distributors have said the majority, the bulk of it, is going to be taken out of the city. When they stop to get their lunch, is it going to be in Phelan or is it going to be in San Bernardino and Los Angeles or Beverly Hills? When they fill up their gas tanks, is it going to be in the City of Hesperia? If we mandated they had to supply so much income off of their fuel and their maintenance and their vehicle purchases and all that, then we would be getting a bit ridiculous. Adelanto started their program out there and their cultivations and they only had a few select licenses whenever they first started off, and they charged a huge sum of money, because they wanted that upfront revenue from these cultivators to get the ball rolling. You can see what’s happened in Adelanto. We’ve had multiple break-ins to the cultivation centers out there. Their marijuana czar has been fired. They can’t seem to collect their taxes, and it seems like we’re having an issue with collecting our taxes here. Back to the base roots of this: Again, being pro-business, these people are here to do business. We do not regulate our alcohol people. I fight every time you guys come up here and try to do a bypass on ‘Well the Census Bureau says you can only have six licenses, but we’re going to go ahead and authorize a seventh one,’ and it gets authorized. Really think about the fact that you’ve already unleashed the dog. You’ve already let these applicants start going through. As a businessman myself, I do all my investigation before I go into business and put any money into it. ‘What do I need to do to make sure I’m going to get into business?’  I hear that this one gentleman already has $61,000 out of his pocket and now he doesn’t know whether he is going to be in business. That’s not our problem. That’s not the council’s problem. That’s the business owner’s problem. I want to thank you guys for keeping this to a minimum. I think a good cap for this industry, for this delivery system in the City of Hesperia would be, probably, ten to 20, tops. And thank God, we don’t have the storefront dispensaries where you are seeing marijuana neon signs all over the place. I will say this about the delivery systems: I think they’re right in the aspect that our kids are probably not getting it from the delivery systems, but it’s just like if your parents go to the store and buy alcohol, and they leave it unlocked, and the kids are going to get into your alcohol, and the kids are going to get it, whether it’s from a dispensary, a delivery, a cultivation, black market, whatever. I urge you to get on the side of this group in the form of getting into these tobacco shops and eradicating these guys selling product and their paraphernalia within the City of Hesperia.”
Frances Showaker said that Hesperia had been forward-looking in allowing the 40,000 users of medical marijuana in the High Desert to get access to the drug, and that the city was  “serving sick people. They were serving people with cancer. They were advocating for patients’ rights at that time.”  She said the city’s recent move to prevent more delivery companies from getting up and running amounted to “kind of going backwards.”
Anthony Rhodes told the city council to consider shutting down the operations that have fallen behind on paying their taxes.
James Deaguilera, a no-longer-practicing attorney, former Adelanto city manager, former assistant Loma Linda city manager and planning director and San Bernardino County environmental review staff member, said “The purpose of licensing marijuana businesses in California, delivery licenses included, primarily is to stop the black market. It’s regulating. It’s not permitting. It’s not allowing. It’s regulating. It’s the black market that’s putting marijuana into our schools. The marijuana that’s getting into schools is not the licensed marijuana. The licensing program that is set up by the state is comprehensive. It goes from growing all the way to selling. It has a track and trace, so every little bit of marijuana is accounted for. That’s through the licensing. But the black market, which triples the licensed market in size and threatens to kill the licensed market, that’s unregulated. Very importantly, the licensed marijuana goes through laboratory testing. The black market does not. That marijuana that’s out there on the streets and in our schools, black market marijuana, has all kinds of insecticides, pesticides, things that will hurt people. We’re trying to get a licensing program into effect here in California. I think there’s a misunderstanding here on the city council, that somehow this licensing is some kind of authorization. It’s not. It’s simply regulation. You cannot get a state license without going through the city first.”
Deaguilera said that since the deliveries were to take place outside of the city as well as inside the city, Hesperia should be willing to license an unlimited number of delivery companies. “Comparing the number of delivery licenses to the population of Hesperia makes no sense at all,” he said. “It’s not practical. We are encouraging the black market by not licensing.”
Mayor Larry Bird, who acknowledged having a personal and philosophical opposition to the commercial availability of cannabis, took issue with the gist of Deaguilera’s assertion that licensing marijuana operations would insulate school-age children from exposure to marijuana.
“In schools, the more access you allow, the easier it is to do,” Bird said. “It’s ridiculous to say it [making marijuana available through a licensed regime] is for [protecting] the kids.”
The upshot of the council’s action was that it extended the moratorium on granting more permits and licenses. It did, nonetheless, lessen restrictions in one regard, that being an extension of operating hours, permitting delivery companies to open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 10 p.m., which is consistent with the standard put in place by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control.
-Mark Gutglueck

YV To Pioneertown Water Line To Be Finished And Flowing By April

The delayed pipeline extension project that will convey water from the Hi-Desert Water District based in Yucca Valley to Pioneertown will likely be completed by mid-spring.
Pioneertown is an unincorporated community in the Morongo Basin located slightly more than four miles northwest of Yucca Valley and accessible by a winding road designated as a California Scenic Drive. Originally created in 1946 by actor Dick Curtis as a circa1880s Old West motion picture set, Pioneertown exists now as a rustic community with a population of 420.
The community is administered under the authority of San Bernardino County through County Service Area 70.
Pioneertown has been challenged by water quality issues for decades. That problem has have grown more critical in recent years. The domestic water system in County Service Area W-4, which originally consisted of nine wells with their tanks, cisterns and pipes, has been maintained under the San Bernardino County Special Districts Department Water and Sanitation Division since 1980. It currently provides water to 120 service connections in Pioneertown.
The water from those wells was previously found to exceed Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Public Health and State Division of Drinking Water standard levels for fluoride, arsenic, and uranium content. Indeed, in five of those nine wells, the levels of uranium and arsenic are so high that they are now entirely inactive.  The State and federal Environmental Protection Agency issued violation and abatement compliance notices on those wells and the remaining four, which compelled the need for the pipeline extension project.
According to lab reports for samplings from the water supply in use in Pioneertown tested during a January-to-March 2019 survey, arsenic ranged from 41 to 92 micrograms per liter; fluoride was present in quantities from 1.3 to 8.6 milligrams per liter; gross alpha radiation content varied between 3.3 to 29 picocuries per liter; and uranium was either absent from the water altogether or measurable at a level of up to 23 picocuries per liter.
The maximum allowable level of arsenic in a liter of water is 10 micrograms. The maximum threshold for fluoride is 2.0 milligrams. The maximum permissible level of gross alpha radiation is 15 picocuries per liter.  The maximum allowed level of uranium per liter is 20 picocuries.
The county successfully applied for a $5.4 million grant from California’s Drinking Water Revolving Fund to deal with the issue. The new pipeline is to eliminate the local populace’s reliance on the local wells from which the contaminated water was drawn, and provide Pioneertown water users with water from the Hi-Desert Water District. The pipeline now being installed will run approximately 4 miles, and will be augmented with two booster stations.
On November 6, 2018, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved a loan agreement between the County of San Bernardino and County Service Area 70, Zone W-4 for a $5.6 million loan from the county general fund to pay for the construction of a potable water system for Pioneertown. While the intent was that the project would be finished by June 30, 2019, unforeseen delays in the availability of certain construction supplies has set the project completion back.
The purpose of the loan was to fund construction costs upfront in order to meet strict deadlines set by regulatory agencies while qualifying for grant reimbursement from the State Water Resources Control Board. Although no funding agreement for the grant has been received by the county as of yet, the State Water Resources Control Board is working with the San Bernardino County Special Districts Department to complete the necessary steps to issue a grant award to be presented to the board of supervisors in early 2020.
On November 6, 2018, the board of supervisors awarded a construction contract to Sukut Construction, LLC in the amount of $4,623,425 for the project.
Between the time of the original approval of the project and the end of July, the San Bernardino County Special Districts Department issued three administrative contract change orders totaling $43,402. On March 8, 2019, the director of the special districts division, as authorized by the board of supervisors, approved a no cost administrative change order to Sukut adding modified Federal Prevailing Wage Rate Determinations that were issued during the bid process and were required to be used for the project. This action did not increase the contract amount or add days to the contract time. On May 28, 2019, the director of special districts, as authorized by the board of supervisors pursuant to Public Contract Code section 20142, approved an administrative change order to Sukut to add $13,706 to the contract amount with no change in the contract time to address additional work required for tank seismic code requirements and unforeseen buried trash removal and disposal. This action increased the contract amount from $4,623,425 to $4,637,131. On July 29, 2019, the director of special districts approved an administrative change order to Sukut to add $29,696 to the contract amount with no change in the contract time to address certain design flaws and miscellaneous items not included in the plans and, as requested by the County Service Area 70 W-4, to include additional security considerations, fiber optic terminals, additional curbing and chain link fencing. This action increased the contract amount from $4,637,131 to $4,666,827.
Last week, the board of supervisors approved not a change order but a contract amendment to the project to cover unanticipated and unforeseen additional cost items that took place after the competitive bid process.
According to Luther Snoke, the interim director of the county’s special districts department, “In regards to the recommended contract amendment, the State officer from the [California] Division of Finance overseeing grant management on the project authorized the department to include an emergency generator and facilitate the abandonment of five existing lower producing wells, which were contaminated and no longer needed. This was requested by the Department of Environmental Health for safety reasons as additional work on the project, as part of the original $5,400,000 State Water Resources Control Board grant contingency, was still unspent and available for use.
Based on Snoke’s recommendation and the board’s approval, the county is paying $160,650 for a generator and another $11,545 for the installation of its pad and electrical facilities, together with $48,825 for the abandonment of the five wells. The contract amendment will run to  $221,020.
Snoke told the board of supervisors, “Contract Amendment No. 1 also extends the contract time from 150 calendar days to 480 calendar days to allow for additional water quality testing that was required by County Services Area 70 W-4 and [the] Environmental Health [Department], long lead times required to comply with the grant requirement of the Buy American Act for steel components, and completion of the additional scope of work, in particular to allow for the long lead time required for generator design, submittals and approvals, fabrication, delivery, and installation. The contract time is the agreed-upon period of time allotted to the contractor to achieve completion of the entire scope of work, without the imposition of liquidated damages.”
Acting as the  the governing body of County Service Area 70, Zone W-4, the board of supervisors on December 17 approved Amendment No. 1 to Contract No. 18-822 with Sukut Construction LLC in the amount of $221,020, increasing the total contract amount from $4,666,827 to $4,887,847 and extending the final completion date to April 30, 2020.

During Confrontation, Elderly Johnson Valley Man Kills His Middle-Age Son

A 72-year-old Johnson Valley man on Monday fatally shot his 43-year-old son in what authorities gave preliminary indication they believe to have been a justifiable homicide.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Keith Putz Sr. called 911 at 8:23 a.m. on December 23,and said he had just killed his son, Keith Putz Jr.
The shooting occurred a day after the younger man, on Sunday December 22, had burglarized his father’s home in the 5900 block of Kickapoo Trail. Keith Putz Jr. then came to his father’s home in the early morning hours on Monday and stole his father’s vehicle. Keith Putz Sr. called authorities to report the theft. A California Highway Patrolman for a time caught sight of the vehicle and gave chase, but Keith Putz Jr. managed to elude the pursuit.
According to a statement from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, “Homicide Detectives responded to conduct the investigation. Through investigation, detectives learned on December 22nd, the victim burglarized the suspects’ home.  In the early morning hours of December 23rd, the victim stole the suspects’ vehicle and was involved in a pursuit with CHP; however, he was able to avoid arrest.  The victim returned to the suspect’s home upset because he had called law enforcement regarding the two prior incidents.  The suspect and the victim were involved in an argument, the victim threatened to kill the suspect, and after the altercation, the suspect shot and killed the victim.”
Despite the sheriff’s department’s reference to Putz Sr. as a “suspect,” the sheriff’s department so far has found no grounds to conclude the shooting qualified as a criminal act. “No arrests have been made; the investigation is ongoing,” according to the sheriff’s department. “Upon completion, the report will be submitted to the district attorney’s office for review.”
Further investigation into the matter is being handled by a team that includes specialized detectives from the sheriff’s department homicide detail, which includes Sergeant A.J. Gibilterra and Detective Bruce Southworth.

Needles To Replace First Term Council Resignee Hazlewood On January 14

The Needles City Council at its January 14 meeting is scheduled to make an appointment to replace Councilman Clayton Hazlewood, who abruptly resigned just prior to the council’s December 10 meeting, after three years in office.
Hazlewood  tendered his quitclaim to office in writing. His terse letter, dated December 10 and posted from the Oak Tree Inn at 1706 Park Drive in Winslow Arizona, stated, “Honorable Mayor and Council Members,  Effective immediately I am resigning from the city council. Sincerely, Clayton Hazlewood.”
No reason for Hazlewood’s decision to leave office was given.
In Needles, the city council consists of six voting members and an elected mayor who serves as the panel’s presiding officer and has veto power but is not empowered to vote except in the event of a tie. On December 10, Mayor Jeff Williams and Councilman Zachery Longacre were ill and did not attend the meeting. Given Hazlewood’s departure from office, the council did not have a quorum of voting members and the council therefore could not take up any of the items scheduled for discussion and a vote at that meeting.
The council normally meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. Because of the cancellation of the December 10 meeting and the encroaching holidays, the December 10 meeting was adjourned to a special meeting on December 17, at which point the council accepted Hazlewood’s resignation.
Needles City Clerk Dale Jones told the Sentinel that the city council is scheduled to take up filling the vacancy among its ranks at the January 14, 2020 meeting. Any Needles resident registered to vote is eligible to apply for the council position. Jones said the council would likely consider any applicant showing interest in the position right up until the time of the meeting. She said, the interviews of applicants followed by the appointment vote will be the first two orders of business at the January 14 meeting, such that the appointed member will then be immediately sworn into office and take part as a voting member with regard to the remaining items on the council agenda for that night.
Jones said she was setting a deadline of January 7 for applicants who wanted to receive a copy of the agenda and the back-up material on the items it involves. She said she will provide that agenda packet to any of those who make an application for the appointment by January 7, so the candidate who is chosen will be able to make informed decisions on the issues the council will consider on January 14.
“If someone applies after January 7 or even shows up on the night of the meeting, the council will have the option of considering that candidate, but I will not have been able to provide that person with the agenda and its materials,” she said.
By statute, the city council has 30 days from the acceptance of Hazlewood’s resignation to appoint a replacement or declare and schedule a special election for that purpose. According to Needles City Manager Rick Daniels, holding an election would set taxpayers back roughly $20,000. Accordingly, the city council elected to advertise the vacancy, accept applications or letters of interest, conduct interviews of those applicants and make the appointment on January 14, two days shy of the deadline to do so.
Hazlewood was elected to the council in the November 8, 2016 election, placing third in a nine candidate race in which three positions on the council were at stake. Hazlewood garnered 484 votes, good for 14.06 percent, behind Shawn Gudmundson, who garnered 515 votes of 14.96 percent, and top vote-getter Tona Belt, who captured 583 votes for 16.93 percent. In that race, Hazlewood outdistanced former councilwomen Linda Kidd and Ruth Musser-Lopez. He also defeated Tim Terral, who was elected to the council two years later.