In San Bernardino County, Newport Beach’s Duffield Lionized & Demonized

In a remarkable coincidence, Newport Beach Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield this week found himself at the center of attention in two San Bernardino County communities.
In one of those cases, Duffield was hailed as a prince among men promoting an innovation seen as a significant solution to the persistent problem of homelessness overwhelming eleven of the county’s 24 incorporated cities and towns and one of its unincorporated communities.
In the other instance, Duffield found himself under attack as someone who had successfully manipulated the already highly compromised approval process for the establishment of cannabis-based enterprises, and was functioning within an atmosphere where the provision of bribes across what is now a second generation of the City of Adelanto’s elected officials has become an open and accepted practice, even if he was not himself directly involved in provable instances of public graft.
The circumstance in which Duffield, a politician from Orange County, is being on one hand lionized and on the other demonized in San Bernardino County made for a bemusing and noteworthy spectacle.
This week’s events put the spotlight on the “Safe Hut,” one of Duffield’s inventions touted as a comparatively inexpensive first step in sheltering homeless individuals during the early “transitional” phase where assessment of each homeless individual eligible for assistance is made and “wrap-around” care can begin prior to those being assisted receiving further help intended to get them off the streets and provide them with an opportunity to be housed permanently.
Duffield is the owner of the Duffy Electric Boat Company, what is billed as the world’s first and leading manufacturer of electric boats. The company grew out of Duffield’s whimsical effort in 1970, according to the company’s literature, to “place the motor from a secondhand golf cart into the hull of a beat-up motorboat,” what became the first primitive prototype for a line of electric-powered watercraft which include the Snug Harbor, the Bay Island, the Sun Cruiser, the Cuddy Cabin and the Back Bay models that Duffield’s company now markets. The company also builds boats to specifications provided by its customers.
Duffy Boats’ first niche was that one established with Disneyland and Disney World, for whom the company supplies the boats used in Disney’s Adventure Parks. The Duffy Electric Boat company also made a significant inroad in the market for providing short touring boats at beach-located hospitality venues world-wide, including those owned and operated by Marriott Hotels. Duffy also provides the boats used by the Nature Conservancy in Naples, Florida and the vessels used by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, known before January 1, 2013 as the Department of Fish and Game Department, for its exploration of sensitive marine life habitats.
Duffield’s operation on a 5-acre facility located at 17260 Muskrat Avenue in Adelanto employs 200 persons during its peak season. While the internal craftsmanship for the boats involves cabinets and tables custom made in the company’s woodshop using solid and saltwater-resistant, marine quality cherrywood, Duffield’s materials for the external covering for the boat involve high quality canvas, and the hulls are composed of fiberglass with foam fill. In working with these later materials, Duffield hit upon the idea of using them for the “Safe Hut” shelters he envisioned could be fabricated by his company during its production off-season. He designed the shelters as fiberglass structures, with foam insulation.
According to Duffield, “The fiberglass material allows the shelters to be cleaned and sanitized in minutes.” With an eye to hygiene, Duffield has partnered with Sanitrax International, which provides restrooms, sinks and showers at shelter sites.
According to Duffield, his shelters exceed building codes, can be secured to a level-adjusted foundation on-site within two hours, and come with beds and solar panels to power LED lights and chargers. The price per shelter, which includes shipping and set-up, is $17,500 for a one-bed, 60-square foot model; and $23,700 for a two-bed 80-square foot model. At present he is working on but has not yet completed specifications for a prototype for a two-bunk bed, 120-square foot, four person model.
The 60-square foot model features a single foldable bed that hinges on one wall. The 80-square foot model features two such beds. While not in use, the beds retract up onto the wall, increasing the available floor space during daylight hours.
According to Duffield, “These prices compare well with proposed purchases of motels or new brick and mortar construction.”
Duffield hauled one of the 60-square foot models from his company’s foundry in Adelanto to San Bernardino on Wednesday so it could be previewed to San Bernardino city and San Bernardino County officials.
Duffield emphasized that the shelters are not intended as permanent housing, but ones that can be used for an extended period of time by an individual or individuals, and then lend themselves to being easily and quickly cleaned and restored to a highly sanitary state.
“They’re pretty indestructable,” he told the Sentinel. “You can sanitize them by pressure washing them inside and out, air drying them, and they are ready for the next inhabitants.”
Though built to uniform specifications, they can be varied in one specific respect, that being the thickness of the inner layer of insulation between the two outer layers of fiberglass in the walls and roof. The more substantial the insulation, the better suited that structure would be for use in either very hot or very cold environments.
The structures come with a single door which can be locked from the inside but which has hinges on the outside so that it can be removed relatively quickly to give emergency responders an opportunity to get inside if that need arises.
Duffield said he believes the Safe Hut will present municipal and governmental entities with two certain advantages in the effort to bring homelessness under control. In the first instance, he said, cities and local governments are restricted under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Boise decision from prohibiting elements of the homeless population from setting up living quarters on sidewalks and other public areas unless that jurisdiction provides alternative shelter. The Safe Hut is such an alternative, he said. Secondly, local jurisdictions face not only the challenges of creating livable sheltering for the homeless but protests from nearby residents or businesses that object to having an influx of the destitute living or subsisting right next to their homes, professional offices or shops. The Safe Huts are not rooted to any specific location, he said, and can be moved to an area far enough removed from other sensitive inhabitants of a particular city or community that is working toward eradicating the problem of people living out in the open on the streets.
Duffield said that ideally a Safe Hut or a cluster of Safe Huts would be located where utilities such as electricity and water are available.
Duffield said his company at the moment has the capacity to churn out two Safe Huts per day.
The State of California, counties and cities are the customers he envisages serving, Duffield said, indicating that he believes it is the counties, with their departments of behavioral health, transitional assistance and human services that will likely prove to be the most prolific purchasers of the Safe Hut.
On Wednesday, San Bernardino City Councilman Jim Mulvihill was among those who was present while Duffield exhibited the 60-square foot model he had hauled to Kendall Plaza on a boat trailer. Duffield was hoping that later that day he would be able to get San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman and current Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales to look the model over. The Fifth District is where the highest concentration of homeless are concentrated in San Bernardino County.
Duffield said he believes there will be a ready market for the Safe Hut in Los Angeles County where some 60,000 of the State of California’s estimated 160,000 homeless population are subsisting on the streets, beneath street and freeway underpasses, within parks and in homeless encampments.
North of San Bernardino, Duffield, who is something of a Renaissance Man who holds nine patents, on the very same day found himself under fire in Adelanto.
In addition to his boat and Safe Hut manufacturing concern in that 56-square-mile, 34,000 population city, Duffy has branched out into what is promising to be California’s next entrepreneurial gold mine, that being the cultivation of marijuana and the conversion of it into cannabis-based products. Duffield has managed to obtain two permits/licenses from the City of Adelanto for marijuana-based operations.
That, however, has brought a surfeit of suspicion and criticism down upon Duffield, including an incipient challenge that carries with it the potential that he will be forced to resign from his position on the Newport Beach City Council.
That Duffield has gravitated toward exploring profiting through the commercialization of marijuana in Adelanto is not in itself startling. Adelanto has become one of the more aggressive municipalities in California in looking toward rejuvenating its local economy by exploiting the legalization of medical marijuana in California that took place more than two decades ago and the more recent legalization of marijuana in California for recreational purposes. That change of attitude in Adelanto is a relatively recent one, having come about only within the last half dozen years.
Following the 2014 election, in which Mayor Rich Kerr and councilmen John Woodard and Charley Glasper were elected in a clean sweep that saw then-Mayor Kari Thomas and then-councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo ousted, Kerr and Woodard joined forces with Councilman Jermaine Wright in an initial effort to permit the indoor cultivation of medical marijuana to take place in the city’s industrial zone. Their stated rationale was that the city, which was in extremely poor financial shape, could rejuvenate itself economically by such a move. That represented a deviation from past policy, which matched that of nearly all of the municipalities in San Bernardino County, which was to resist any involvement with the commercial availability of cannabis or cannabis products, even though the use of marijuana for medical purposes had been legal in California in the aftermath of the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act. While some city employees were philosophically and ideologically opposed to the direction Kerr, Woodard and Wright were purposed to take the city in, some or even most were willing to support their agenda, insofar as they were assured the city was working within the parameters of the law. Over time, however, evidence emerged that Wright, Woodard and Kerr were involved in helping applicants for the cultivation businesses cut corners with regard to the permitting, licensing, inspection, operations and standards for those businesses. It also became evident that at least some of those business proponents were providing inducements to the trio in return for their efforts to prevent city staff from applying straightforward planning, land use and regulatory requirements to those proposals and businesses. In time, Kerr, Woodard and Wright dropped all pretense of being interested only in seeing cultivation enterprises flourish and they pushed ahead with allowing, first, medical marijuana dispensaries to be able set up shop in the city and then, anticipating the passage of 2016’s Proposition 64, allowing the city to position itself at the forefront of selling marijuana for recreational purposes, that is, allowing the drug to be used not for its medical but rather its intoxicative effect.
Thus, some high ranking and mid-level city employees decided to leave or were pushed out from their posts, and they elected to simply move on. These included longtime City Manager Jim Hart, former City Engineer/Public Works Director/interim City Manager Tom Thornton, former City Attorney Todd Litfin, former City Attorney Julia Sylva, former City Attorney Curtis Wright, former City Attorney Ruben Duran, former interim City Manager Brad Letner, and former contract City Engineer Wilson So.
While Kerr, Woodard and Wright were pushing their agenda, some city employees pushed back, refusing to suspend the city’s planning, inspection or enforcement standards when it came to the cannabis-related businesses that Kerr, Woodard and Wright had put such a high priority upon facilitating.
Kerr, Woodard and Wright deemed such resistance to be insubordination, purposed as they were to transform Adelanto into the marijuana capital of California. They had several of those resistant employees suspended, fired, or suspended and then fired. Even after Jermaine Wright was arrested by the FBI in November 2017 for taking a bribe in exchange for agreeing to prevent an applicant for a marijuana distribution business from being closely monitored and regulated by the city’s code enforcement division, Kerr and Woodard did not desist, pressing staff harder and harder to accommodate those seeking licensing by suspending the regulations and oversight the city was supposed to engage in as part of the approval and licensing processes. This entailed further reprisals against city employees when they continued to resist the mayor’s and councilman’s directions.
Ultimately, Kerr and Woodard were voted out of office as the scandal relating to what was perceived to be their graft-ridden relationships with the cannabis industry became too pronounced for the city’s residents to ignore.
More than a year after Kerr and Woodard left office and they and Glasper were replaced by Mayor Gabriel Reyes, Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans and Councilman Gerardo Hernandez, all of whom to a lesser or greater extent represented themselves as reformist candidates in the 2018 election campaign, the City of Adelanto has not abandoned Kerr, Woodard and Wright’s underlying game plan of facilitating the establishment of marijuana-based enterprises.
At the same time, one of the more unfortunate features of the atmosphere that accompanied the Kerr regime’s domination of the city – the specter of marijuana-related entrepreneurs securing licenses to operate in the city through payoffs while those seeking licenses who do not kick back to city officials are unable to get permits to operate – persists. That reputation was burnished by irregularities involving the city’s code enforcement division. Past and current code enforcement officers have related multiple incidents in which they were told to disengage, back down, stand down or hold off on carrying out inspections of certain applicants for cannabis-involved operations. The clear implication was that those businesses slipping out from underneath of the city’s regulation regime were showing and are continuing to show generosity toward the city’s elected leadership.
At the same time, a number of applicants for marijuana-related or cannabis-related business licenses who maintain they have not engaged in generous outpourings of largesse to city leaders complain that they have not been able to get their businesses permitted or licensed. In the midst of this squawking, those who have gotten licenses and permits have fallen under suspicion, with those on the outside looking in using a very broad brush to paint a picture in which everyone with a license to grow, sell, process, package, alter or distribute marijuana in Adelanto is represented as having engaged in questionable if not outright illegal activity. Wherever those making those suggestions of impropriety can, they are lodging complaints with either prosecutorial authorities, law enforcement agencies or regulators.
Duffield has not escaped those efforts, though no tangible evidence to indicate he engaged in anything illegal has emerged. Nevertheless, as an elected official, he is more vulnerable than most others to the crossfire someone involved in the marijuana business in Adelanto is subjected to.
That is because the California Department of Cannabis Control has adopted a set of regulations that outright prohibit an elected official in California from getting involved in the cannabis business or marijuana trade.
Under those regulations, § 5005 bears the subheading “Personnel Prohibited from Holding Licenses.” Thereafter § 5005 states, “(a) A license authorized by the Act and issued by the Bureau may not be held by, or issued to, any person holding office in, or employed by, any agency of the State of California or any of its political subdivisions when the duties of such person have to do with the enforcement of the Act or any other penal provisions of law of this State prohibiting or regulating the sale, use, possession, transportation, distribution, testing, manufacturing, or cultivation of cannabis goods.”
The Sentinel has learned that at least one of the parties in Adelanto who have so far been denied a permit to establish a marijuana-based business has set sights on Duffield, and is seeking to have the California Department of Cannabis Control and the Newport Beach City Attorney bring their authority to bear on Duffield to make a determination that he is improperly in possession of both of the marijuana-based business permits issued to him by the City of Adelanto. It is not entirely clear whether the intention of those notifications of the circumstances is to have the city revoke Duffield’s permits or have the State of California and the City of Newport Beach remove Duffield as a council member.
The Sentinel made repeated phone calls to Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron C. Harp, Newport Beach Assistant City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill and Newport Beach’s three deputy city attorneys, Armeen Komili, Anita Lakhani and Joseph Meeks, in which the specifics of Duffield’s possession of licenses issued by the city of Adelanto along with § 5005 of the California Department of Cannabis Control’s regulations were referenced. Neither Harp, nor Summerhill, nor Komeili, nor Lakhani nor Meeks responded to those inquiries by press time.
On Wednesday, Duffield told the Sentinel, “I’m not growing any marijuana.”
He said that he had obtained the two licenses, which pertain to the distribution of marijuana and are tied to the 17260 Muskrat Avenue property in Adelanto where he has the Duffy Electric Boat Company operation, because he is looking to sell the property.
Duffield explained that he is considering moving his boat manufacturing operation to Utah because the cost of housing in California is so high that many of his employees are unable to purchase homes. He said they will be able to purchase residential properties in Utah. He said that in recent months and years, his sale of boats in California has decreased, and more and more of his oceangoing vessels are being purchased in Florida. His boats are transported from their place of manufacture to the ocean by rail, and he said he will thus save rather than lose money in shipping to Florida from Utah rather than California.
“I have [marijuana-based] business licenses in Adelanto, but I’m not using them,” Duffield said. “I’m looking to maximize the price I can get for the property when I sell it, and that’s why I obtained those permits.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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