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Monthly Archives: February 2021
Incoming Upland City Attorney Had A Hand In The 1980s Southridge Graftfest
By Mark Gutglueck
Next week, on Monday, February 22, the City of Upland is set to hire as its new city attorney Stephen P. Deitsch, who in an earlier phase of his career was involved in structuring financing arrangements for the City of Fontana’s redevelopment agency, at an eventual total cost of $376.8 million to that city’s taxpayers, to allow a massive 9,135-residential unit development to proceed. Instead of assigning that $376.8 million price tag for the infrastructure to the development company that profited from the creation of the subdivision and the sale of the homes built there, Deitsch and his law partner assisted Fontana’s city manager in transferring that burden to the city’s residents.
The financing arrangements that Deitsch put his legal imprimatur upon defrayed $120 million in upfront costs the developer otherwise would have needed to bear. Having been spared the expense of paying for the project’s infrastructure, the owners of the development company invested those savings in the bonds the city issued to pay for 54 percent of the project’s infrastructure, whereby the development company realized an added return of more than $139 million on the project.
Deitsch and his law partner allowed that financing arrangement and its weight upon Fontana’s taxpayers to remain in place even after learning that the development company and city manager had constructed a kickback-laundering arrangement to reward the city manager for obtaining the Fontana City Council’s approval of the project and its one-sided developer dispensation agreement that profited the development company at the city’s expense.
Deitsch, who is at present serving as the city attorney in Arcadia and Big Bear Lake and was formerly the city attorney in Indian Wells and Shafter, has over the course of his 41-year legal career in California cultivated a range of experience with regard to municipal operations that extend to land use, financing, the provision of public services and regulations pertaining to legally required disclosure of governmental operations. He and his law firm, Best Best & Krieger, are being brought in to Upland to replace Steven Flower and his law firm, Richards Watson & Gershon.
Both Best Best & Krieger and Richards Watson & Gershon are full service law firms that specialize in the representation of governmental entities, in particular municipalities. With the hiring of Deitsch, the Richards Watson & Gershon firm is to close out its second run representing the City of Upland, with that most recent tour of duty having lasted from early 2017 to the present. Nearly a generation ago, Richards Watson & Gershon, following the 1996 retirement of longtime Upland City Attorney Don Maroney, was retained to provide legal services to Upland in the person of James Markman, one of the firm’s lawyers, who is also city attorney in Rancho Cucamonga and Brea. In 2004, after concerns emerged about the potential for a conflict of interest arising out of Markman’s dual representation of the adjoining cities of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, Markman left as Upland’s city attorney, and was replaced by his Richards Watson and Gershon colleague, Bill Curley.
In 2012, after the 2011 federal indictment of then-Mayor John Pomierski on political corruption charges and just prior to the filing of criminal charges against one-time Upland City Manager Robb Quincey, who had been handpicked by Pomierski to serve as Upland’s top municipal administrator and was suspended a little more than a month prior to Pomierski’s indictment and then fired four months later, the city ended its relationship with Richards Watson & Gershon for the first time, retaining the firm of Jones & Mayer in its place. For more than five years, Richard L. Adams II and Kimberly Hall Barlow, both partners with Jones & Mayer, alternated in the role of Upland’s city attorney. When Barlow proved too aggressive in dealing with some of the city’s establishment figures and businesses that were generally thought of or accepted as Upland institutions, the city terminated its relationship with Jones & Mayer, and again took up with Markman and Richards, Watson & Gershon.
In 2018, the city council as it was then composed moved to reduce the city’s recreational centerpiece, Memorial Park, by 12 percent, and sell 4.631 acres of the park to adjoining San Antonio Hospital for use as a parking lot. That council, consisting of four different council members than are now on the panel, relied upon Markman to engineer the sale of the park property without a vote of the city’s residents, as is required by state law with the sale of municipal parkland. Markman formulated the strategy of embarking on a validation effort, effectively inviting anyone opposed to the park acreage sale to challenge the action in Superior Court within 30 days. Markman’s calculation and that of four of the council’s members, was that no city residents would go to the expense of challenging the validation petition, and certainly would not be able to coordinate a fundraising effort to retain an attorney to formulate a response within the time limit. That proved to be wrong, however, as two such challenges to the parkland sale were mounted. Ultimately, the city was rebuffed in court, when Judge David Cohn found in favor of those making the challenge, noting along the way that the effort to make the sale without a vote was illegal. Ultimately, more than two years later, that vote was held, upon which the city’s voters nixed the sale.
As a consequence of the November 2018 and the November 2020 elections, all four of the city council members who supported the parkland sale in 2018 were either voted out of office or opted out of seeking reelection. The lone member of the city council who opposed the sale, Janice Elliott, remains in office.
In October 2019, after Judge Cohn’s ruling against the city on the park property sale, the city council moved toward firing Markman. In an effort to preserve Richard Watson & Gershon’s legal representation contract with Upland, Markman resigned as city attorney and was replaced by another member of his firm, Steven Flower. Over the last 16 months, Flower has provided legal advice and engaged in efforts to either justify action by the city council as it was previously composed or made efforts to insulate city staff members from challenges that ensued from their actions unpopular with a significant cross section of the city’s residents. With the resignation of Councilman Ricky Felix in May 2020 and the the electoral defeat of Mayor Debbie Stone in November 2020, Flower lost support on the council that was crucial to his survival as city attorney and the prospect that Richards Watson & Gershon would maintain its contract to provide legal services to City Hall. Additionally, since December 2020, when the two most recently elected members of the council, First District Councilwoman Shannan Maust and Third District Councilman Carlos Garcia, were installed, Flower has found himself in the position of being somewhat out of synchronicity with three of his five current political masters – Elliott, Maust and Garcia. Flower had established a rapport with the previous council, which had taken a direction on key issues that has now fallen out of vogue with a majority of the current council. In particular, Elliott, Maust and Garcia are on record as having opposed a massive warehouse project on the city’s west side intended to serve as a distribution center for online retail behemoth Amazon that the previously-composed council approved in April 2020. The Amazon project and the city’s approval of it is now the subject of costly litigation. Moreover, another project approved under Flower’s watch less than a months after the Amazon project was given go-ahead, a residential subdivision to be built on the city’s east side near 15th Street on what was formerly considered to be flood control property, is likewise undergoing a legal challenge that has delayed that project, resulting in further legal costs to the city that are enhancing Richard Waston & Gershon’s revenues. Last year, when a majority of the city council supported the warehouse and 15th Street projects, Flower made a political calculation to slip into his legal advice statements or findings favorable to those projects. The changeover on the council since then has made Flower’s political maneuvering now appear unwise.
Mayor Bill Velto, who as a councilman last year supported the two projects now under legal challenge and therefore might otherwise be considered one of Flower’s pillars of support on the council, earlier this month questioned the soundness of Flower’s legal advice on other issues. With at least four-fifths and perhaps even all five members of the city council less than confident in Flower’s legal acumen and the quality and integrity of his counsel to them, it is now apparent that Upland is done with him and for the second time is done with his law firm.
Last year, prior to the November election and the addition of Upland’s two new council members and the elevation of Councilman Bill Velto to the status of mayor, the city council as it was then composed signaled that the city was to conduct a competitive process to seek legal representation going forward.
Not quite able to discern the writing on the wall, Flower and Richards, Watson and Gershon took part in that competition, as did the law firms of Best Best and Krieger; Jones and Meyer; Aleshire and Wyndler; Collantuano, Highsmith, & Whatley; Burke, Williams & Sorenson; Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart; and Casse & Sparks.
It was announced this week that the winner in the Upland legal representation sweepstakes is the law firm of Best Best & Krieger and that Deitsch, one of the firm’s partners, is to take on the assignment of Upland city attorney.
Given certain elements of Best Best & Krieger’s and Deitsch’s respective separate and now combined histories, the choice to hire them stands as a statement that any disputes that emerge between a majority of the Upland City Council and Upland’s residents over vision, priorities, policy or interests will be resolved without question in accordance with the wishes of the city council majority.
In the world of governmental legal representation, there are two schools of thought, two distinct philosophies, with regard to how a city attorney is to function.
The first of those embodies the approach that the city attorney represents all of the residents or citizens of the city in which he or she has the contract or assignment as city attorney, and owes his or her loyalty to those citizens. Under that philosophy, the city attorney examines all contemplated action and actual action by the city’s elected officials and its staff, and ensures that the actions of those at City Hall conform with the law and remain within the bounds of constitutionality. Such a city attorney strives to prevent the actions of city officials elected and hired from interfering with or harming the interests of the city’s residents, taxpayers and citizens, so that the city’s official policies and practices are consistent with the collective interests of the city’s residents.
The second school of thought is that a city attorney represents all of the citizens and residents of the city in which he or she is has the contract for providing legal services only insofar as the city’s elected political leadership embodies the citizenry’s will and expressed interests. Under that approach the city attorney examines all action and contemplated action by the city’s elected officials and its employees with an eye to ensuring that their actions conform with the law and remain within the bounds of constitutionality, but goes no further than that in terms of looking after the citizenry’s interests. Rather, city attorneys of the second school do not consider the city’s residents and citizens to be their clients but rather see themselves as working for the city’s elected officials, those primarily being the mayor and city council. Such city attorneys conceive of their role as being one of enabling the mayor and city council to put into play their vision of what they want and are determined to do without regard to whether that action actually corresponds to the preferences of the citizens who elected the city’s political leadership or those who did not participate in the political process.
Best Best & Krieger and Deitsch represent the latter approach to the role of a city attorney.
Deitsch believes his assignment as a municipal lawyer is to enable the city’s political leadership to accomplish whatever it wants to achieve, whether those goals are perfect or imperfect, high-minded or low-minded, sincere or insincere, corrupt or honest, well thought through or ill-considered. An illustration of his attitude in this regard consists of the work Deitsch did in Fontana in the 1980s when the law firm he was a member of, Sabo & Deitsch, represented the Fontana Redevelopment Agency.
At that time, Fontana suffered from a seemingly intractable image problem. The western unincorporated portion of Fontana was home to the Kaiser Steel Mill, an extremely heavy industrial operation that generated a substantial degree of air pollution and had resulted in the contamination of the mill property and the surrounding area. The mill, which at its peak employed more than 2,500 workers, ceased operations in 1983, throwing more than 1,800 steelworkers onto the unemployment rolls. Fontana was also the home of the Hells Angels, considered by law enforcement to be an outlaw motorcycle gang. Perhaps most damaging to the city’s reputation was that it featured the headquarters of a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, led by one of that organization’s grand dragons, George Pepper, a bus driver and Fontana resident who ran unsuccessfully for Fontana mayor in 1982.
Three entrepreneurs, brothers Dick and Bill Ashby and their business associate Larry Redman, saw opportunity in Fontana’s circumstance. They pitched to the city council, the city manager and the city’s planning and development staff the concept of creating a massive residential subdivision on property at the city’s extreme southwest corner. The project, dubbed Southridge Village, would be designed, the Ashby Brothers and Redman said, to appeal to so-called “yuppies,” defined as “young upwardly-mobile professionals.” They dedicated their company, the Ten-Ninety Corporation, and its corporate affiliates, Creative Communities, Inc., General Specifics Corporation and Rak Corporation, to obtaining clearance to undertake the Southridge Village development effort and construct the subdivision, marketing the homes along the way.
The Fontana City Council as it was then composed, encouraged by Fontana’s city manager, Jean Daze Ratelle II, embraced the Southridge village concept, directing Ratelle to explore the possibility.
Ratelle, who went by the name Jack, in consultation with the city’s planning staff, presented the idea to the planning commission, which after a review, gave a recommendation that the city give serious consideration to permitting the undertaking. With that green light, Ratelle pushed forward, full steam ahead. The development of Fontana, with an eye toward the future, was paramount, Ratelle said, and Southridge Village was Fontana’s future. Before long, all considerations fell in deference to achieving that imperative.
Standing in the way of the Southridge project were overwhelming infrastructure needs. The city did not have in place the basic improvements the project would require, such as streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, storm drains, and sewers to accommodate what Redman and the Ashbys were contemplating. Nor did the City of Fontana have the financial means to pay to construct that infrastructure. Moreover, the local school district, Fontana Unified, did not have schools or available funding to adequately educate the vast number of students the 9,135 units would bring into the city.
Under normal and traditional circumstances, the developer creating the homes, factories or buildings housing commercial enterprises to be constructed in a community was called upon to furnish the necessary infrastructure to logically accommodate that development or otherwise provide the funding to defray the city’s cost of building that infrastructure. In the case of Ten-Ninety, however, Redman, and the Ashby brothers stated unequivocally that they did not have adequate capital on their own nor the availability of financing to pay for constructing both the homes to comprise the Southridge subdivision and its infrastructure. Confident they had the city council on the hook, the Ashby Brothers and Redman told its members that if the city would not underwrite the cost of the infrastructure, the project simply would not get built.
Ratelle had been hired as Fontana city manager on a 3-to-2 vote of the city council in 1973 after impressing a majority of the city council by arriving in the city driving a Pantera, referencing his law degree and more than two years experience as the assistant to San Diego County’s chief administrative officer, his three years experience as an associate administrative analyst with the City of San Diego and his three years as assistant city manager in Chula Vista.
During his tenure as city manager, Jack Ratelle had developed a Svengali-like hold on most of the city council members, beguiling and befriending those newly elected to the panel, remaining constantly on good terms with at least three and usually more of those officeholders, such that he could virtually dictate how those elected officials, constituting a majority of the panel, should and would vote on any matter that came before them. The creativity of his methods in achieving this were legendary. He had arranged to provide a city job to the son-in-law of one of the city council members. For another council member who owned a welding business, Ratelle had arranged to obtain for him work with a substantial number of the industrial operations around the city, boosting that council member’s income. Another council member, an instructor at one of the city’s junior high schools, had gotten himself in trouble with a 13-year-old student. Ratelle had pulled the police department off of him, convincing the police chief and the head of the police officers’ union that going easy on the councilman would be worthwhile for them in terms of funding that would be freed up for the department in upcoming budgetary cycles and in generosity that would be shown to the department’s officers in future employment contract negotiations. Ratelle had an intimate relationship with the woman who had been Fontana’s sole councilwoman in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was thereafter a member of the planning commission that first considered the Southridge village project. He had no trouble convincing the council majority, which was in any event already favorably disposed toward development in the city, that they had to do everything that could be done to make sure the Southridge project was carried through to completion.
The Fontana Unified School District was proving a problem. It was balking at having to accept the estimated 16,000 to 18,000 students the project was likely to generate. It had no schools in place to accommodate elementary school children and did not have available funding to construct a neighborhood school. Moreover, the district’s existing high schools and junior highs had inadequate classroom space to assimilate the adolescents that were to be sent their way. Even when Ratelle offered the district an assurance that Ten-Ninety would construct a grade school for the district, the school balked. Ultimately, after Ratelle approached the Colton Joint Unified School District, that entity agreed to extend its educational coverage to include the southern portion of Fontana.
Ratelle’s advocacy on behalf of the Ten-Ninety Corporation was extraordinary, even given the premium local government often puts on encouraging development. The Ten-Ninety principals and Ratelle had a special relationship. Ratelle had established a credit line at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Ten-Ninety then made a habit of endowing that credit line. Ratelle established a pattern of frequenting Las Vegas on weekends, two or three times a month, making a show of his presence at the craps, roulette and less occasionally the blackjack tables at the MGM Grand. Upon returning to Fontana on Monday, he would regale city staff with tales of his gaming exploits in Sin City, bragging about winning on some occasions, lamenting his losses on others. In this way, Ratelle laundered the money he was receiving from Redman and the Ashbys.
To finance the Southridge infrastructure, the Fontana Redevelopment Agency issued $65 million in certificates of participation, a type of bond, along with securing $55 million in loans from the Glaziers Union.
Ratelle, who had a law degree from the University of San Deigo, was intimately familiar with legal processes and what it was going to take to legally wire the highly questionable arrangements he was making between the city and the Ten-Ninety Corporation. As Fontana’s city manager, however, he could not act as the city’s legal representative or be the attorney of record on the scheme he was cooking up.
It was thus no accident that at that point Ratelle was employing the law firm of Sabo & Deitsch to represent the Fontana Redevelopment Agency.
Sabo, who graduated from Youngstown State University in Ohio magna cum laude in 1969, in time gravitated toward a legal career, in particular finance law. He went to work for the renowned municipal-bond lawyer James Warren Beebe, mastering first the rudiments, then the finer points and in time all of the permutations of public financing instruments and arrangements. He attended the University of Denver College of Law in Colorado, thereafter passing the California bar in 1977. By his late 30s Sabo had earned the sobriquet of “the great enabler” or variously, “the great facilitator.” In the capacity of counsel to municipalities and local governmental agencies in and around San Bernardino County, he was instantly recognized, indeed had grown infamous, for being unwilling, or unable, or refusing, to say “No” to his clients.
During closed sessions, Sabo would assure the elected officials with the public agencies he worked for that as the voters’ choices, they embodied the authority to do virtually anything they wanted to do.
Sabo understood the ins and outs of public financing, forwards and backwards, top to bottom, inside out and upside down, both legitimate and illegitimate. In situations where a public agency needed more money than it could reasonably borrow at an even prohibitive interest rate, he could find a way for some lender somewhere to put the money up. This was often done by an agency borrowing against collateral, the value of which was astronomically inflated, based upon the most overcontrived and creative interpretations and descriptions that might be conceived of, certified by any of a host of sketchy underwriters Sabo had in his Rolodex, who for an extra point or two beyond the standard commission were willing to sign anything.
As the lawyer for a multitude of local cities and agencies, Sabo handled the legal paperwork for financing arrangements on undertakings that were both legitimate and illegitimate, along with ones that fell somewhere in the middle. The legal filings Sabo made for the well-founded and warranted use of governmental reach or redevelopment authority were straightforward and understandable. When Sabo was engaged in assisting governmental entities carry out actions that could not withstand the light of day, he would envelope the action taken in paperwork and legal filings that were so recondite, so convoluted and so incomprehensible that even if someone of his considerable legal skill were to examine it after the fact, it still could not be untangled.
This provided more than just the typical legal insulation that public agencies provide to their operations.
Only rarely were these masterpieces of falsification challenged, as when the FBI descended upon the offices at San Bernardino International Airport in 2011, armed with search warrants to look into the misdirection of funding by the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, a joint powers agency consisting of the County of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Highland, Loma Linda and Colton, who were pooling their available tax revenue to effectuate the civilian use conversion of the former Norton Air Force Base that had been shuttered by the Department of Defense in 1994. The San Bernardino International Airport debacle was perhaps the one time in his career when the abuse of the governmental and legal system that Sabo was so skilled at perpetuating approached the point of redounding to a legal or professional castigation that threatened his licensing as a lawyer or which might have conceivably sent him to prison. Any possibility of that occurring passed, as the FBI and Securities Exchange Commission investigation into the misdeeds at San Bernardino International Airport by the airport authority had not concluded when, mercifully as far as Sabo was concerned, he died in December 2012.
Deitsch, a 1969 cum laude graduate of Brandeis University who went on to earn his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974, after passing the New Jersey Bar went to work for three years as a prosecutor with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. He thereafter moved to California, where he passed the California Bar in November 1979, going to work shortly thereafter as an attorney in the Office of Special Counsel for the United States Department of Energy in its Los Angeles office.
In 1981, Sabo and Deitsch formed a formed a partnership.
Just like Sabo’s mentor James Warren Beebe had instructed him in the legal intricacies of public finance and the advantages, vulnerabilities and applicability of various financing and investments, including deferred bonds, floating bonds, inverse floating bonds, income bonds, participatory bonds, step-up bonds and step-down bonds, plain vanilla bonds, yield bonds, payment-in-kind bonds, secured bonds and unsecured bonds, as well as extendable bonds, coupons and loans, Sabo imparted to Deitsch virtually all he needed to know to work in the arena of public agency finance law. In relatively short order, the law firm of Sabo & Deitsch was much in demand, and it was representing the cities of San Bernardino, Ontario, Fontana and Rialto, the three largest and the sixth largest population-wise of what are today San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities.
Because they were willing to carry out things that lawyers with a little more integrity or bounded by ethical or moral principle could not bring themselves to do, Sabo and Deitsch were highly valued by public agencies and the ethically-challenged public officials who headed those agencies in the wide open Wild West atmosphere of San Bernardino County.
It was in Fontana, during his involvement in the highly questionable actions taken in support of Ratelle’s breathtakingly broad corruptions of governmental authority, that Deitsch came out from underneath Sabo’s shadow, demonstrating that his mentor in rigging public financing schemes had nothing on him when it came to facilitating abuses of municipal operations.
Sabo and Deitsch did not participate and enable these depredations at no benefit to themselves, and they extracted their own piece of the action through the highly questionable, indeed what is by many considered to be the illegal, practice of double- and triple-dipping. Double-dipping occurs when an attorney or a law firm, working in the capacity of general counsel, city attorney or formerly in the function of redevelopment attorney to a municipality or agency, after advising the entity it represents on the advisability of issuing and selling bonds as a form of financing or for creating revenue for one reason or another, then takes on the role of being bond counsel when those bonds are issued and sold. Typically, for doing bond issuance work, which consists primarily of rendering a legal opinion as to the tax status of interest payments and the authority of the issuer to sell the bonds as well as preparing certain documents, a bond counsel is paid a commission or fee equal to 0.5 percent of the entire bond issuance. Triple-dipping occurs when an attorney who is already double-dipping in terms of serving as a municipality’s or agency’s city attorney or general counsel while simultaneously functioning as its bond attorney further serves in the role of disclosure counsel. For serving as the draftsman of the official statements relating to such municipal bonds so that they meet all Securities and Exchange Commission requirements in terms of informing buyers about the relevant aspects of the issuance and limitations of the bonds, a disclosure counsel is typically paid 0.25 percent of the total bond issuance upon the sale of those bonds.
Thus, as a consequence of the issuance of the $65 million in certificates of participation to fund a portion of the infrastructure at the Southridge subdivision, the law firm of Sabo & Deitsch netted $487,500. That came in addition to the other pay the two partners received while working on behalf of the Fontana Redevelopment Agency.
Sabo & Deitsch further signed off on the $55,000,000 loan from the glaziers union that was used to finance the balance of the infrastructure built at and around the subdivision. There is nothing in the record available to the Sentinel to show the Sabo & Deitsch firm was paid any more than the standard fees it was paid for advising the city and its redevelopment agency with regard to the loans from the glaziers union to the redevelopment agency.
To retire that bonded indebtedness through constant payments to the bondholders and to pay off the loans provided by the glaziers union, the City of Fontana shelled out $376.8 million over thirty years, at a rate of $3.14 million per quarter or $12.56 million per year.
Thus, through the arrangement the Ten Ninety Corporation brokered with Ratelle, instead of paying to provide their development with its required infrastructure, the Ashley Brothers and Redman instead purchased $65 million worth of certificates of participation that, in addition to defraying 54 percent of the cost of providing the Southridge Village project’s $120 million in infrastructure, brought back to Redman and the Ashbys a return of approximately $204.1 million on their investments in those bonds. The Ashleys and Redman kicked back an unknown amount to Ratelle, and the legal team of Sabo & Deitsch was paid $487,500 for going along with the bond issuances.
At some point after the issuance of the certificates of participation and prior to the sale of those bonds, both Sabo and Deitsch became aware that the Ten Ninety Corporation was purchasing the certificates of participation. Deitsch had been present during public hearings at Fontana City Hall when Redman and the Ashby Brothers asserted they did not have sufficient capital to pay for the infrastructure improvements to facilitate the construction of Southridge Village. Neither Sabo nor Deitsch sought to rescind the bond issuance or block the sale of the certificates of participation upon learning that the Ten Ninety Corporation indeed had at least $65 million available to be spent toward the provision of infrastructure which they instead used to invest in the certificates of participation. Subsequent to the issuance of those bonds and their sale, both Sabo and Deitsch learned of the kickback arrangement between Ratelle and the Ten Ninety Corporation principals and the use of Ratelle’s credit line at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas to launder those kickbacks.
While it would have doubtless proven to be complicated to de-issue the certificates of participation or cancel out the bonds once they had been sold, given that the Ten-Ninety Corporation was the purchaser of the certificates of participation and the entire deal involved graft, bribery and collusion, Sabo and Deitsch could have involved legal and civil authorities such as the district attorney, California Attorney General, the FBI or the SEC to redress what had become an obvious corruption of the public process. They did not.
There was another depredation involving the Fontana Redevelopment Agency in the 1980s that occurred during the Sabo & Deitsch firm’s watch.
Neil Stone at that time served in the capacity of Fontana’s director of development and director of redevelopment. There were nine redevelopment project areas in Fontana, all of which had been created by Ratelle during the course of his run as city manager. One of those included the property upon which the Southridge Village development took place at the south end of the city. Stone owned property in the name of his children, which was different from his own, in another redevelopment area in the northwest quadrant of the city. Upon learning of that circumstance, Deitsch elected to take no action.
Deitsch ended his partnership with Sabo in 1989, at which point he joined Best Best & Krieger.
As was the case with Sabo & Deitsch, Best Best & Krieger has an established reputation for double and triple-dipping.
Many elected officials in San Bernardino County are not sophisticated enough to recognize the conflict of interest inherent in double-dipping as well as in triple-dipping. Essentially, when an attorney or a law firm has a financial interest in the issuance of bonds, the advice that lawyer or members of that law firm will provide tends to usher the elected decision-makers he/she or the firm is advising toward bond financing when the municipality or agency is in the position of seeking an infusion of money, even if there is a more advisable means of obtaining funding. Over the last four decades, the California Attorney General’s Office has issued differing opinions with regard to the practice of double- and triple-dipping. One opinion holds that double- or triple-dipping is a clear violation of the State of California Government Code relating to a public conflict of interest. Another opinion holds that there is no specific admonition against double- or triple-dipping, but that it is nonetheless inadvisable for a city or agency to allow its legal counsel to engage in such arrangements.
Currently, six of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities – Apple Valley, Big Bear, Colton, Fontana, Ontario and San Bernadino – employ town/city attorneys who are partners with the Best Best & Krieger firm. Best Best & Krieger also does legal work for the City of Redlands. Next week, upon Deitsch taking on the Upland assignment, seven of the county’s cities will have city/town attorneys employed by the firm.
Where those cities or the Town of Apple Valley will permit it to do so, Best Best & Krieger will double- and triple dip.
Sonia Carvalho, a lawyer with Best Best & Krieger who is currently the city attorney in San Bernardino and was formerly the city attorney in Colton, said it is entirely up to a majority of a city council’s members if that city is going to permit the city attorney it employs or the firm in which the city attorney is a partner to double- or triple-dip. “It’s their decision,” Carvalho said.
Because city council members generally rely exclusively on the city attorney for legal guidance, and because a city attorney is not required by law to inform the city council he or she serves of the California Attorney General’s Office’s opinions on the matter, when a city attorney suggests that the city may want to consider using bond financing and that his or her firm offers a full range of services including those of bond counsel and disclosure counsel, city council members tend to go along with hiring a member of the city attorney’s firm to provide those services.
In 2011, the California Legislature passed two laws which essentially shuttered all of the redevelopment agencies throughout California. Previously, redevelopment agencies that engaged in bond financing accounted for a considerable degree of the double- and triple-dipping that occurred in California. With the passage of the 2011 law, the frequency of double-dipping and triple-dipping in California lessened.
While the amount of double- and triple-dipping in California has diminished, it still takes place when a governmental entity elects to utilize bond financing and does not take steps to retain bond or disclosure counsel unconnected to the law firm providing that particular city with legal services.
In the contract that the Upland City Council is set to approve on Monday night, there is nothing that will prevent Best Best & Krieger from engaging in double-dipping or triple-dipping.
Shortly after it was publicly revealed that Deitsch is to become Upland’s next city attorney, the Sentinel dashed off a letter to him about his experience in Fontana and his history and the history of the firm he worked for and the firm he now works for engaging in double- and triple-dipping, specifically working as a municipality’s or agency’s legal counsel while simultaneously serving in the role of bond counsel as well as disclosure counsel in those instances where those entities utilized bond financing.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch about his recollections of the depredations Jack Ratelle engaged in as Fontana’s city manager, in particular how he had indulged Larry Redman, Bill Ashby and Dick Ashby in having the city and its redevelopment agency defray the cost of the infrastructure that needed to be built to allow the Southridge Village project to proceed.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch about the inconsistency between the assertion by Redman and the Ashby Brothers that they did not have the financing to undertake the infrastructure improvements the Southridge Village project required and the Ten-Ninety Corporation’s principals’ purchase of the certificates of participation issued to defray the cost of that infrastructure.
The Sentinel inquired as to whether Deitsch and his partner Sabo had learned that the Ashby Brothers and Larry Redmond were purposed to purchase the certificates of participation issued in conjunction with the project before those purchases were made or afterward.
Noting that both Deitsch and Sabo more than three decades ago said they were reluctant to or otherwise constrained from speaking about the graft involving the Southridge Village project and Redman’s and the Ashby brothers’ endowment of the credit line Ratelle had set up at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas as a way of laundering the kickbacks he was receiving, the Sentinel asked if Deitsch was now at liberty to comment on that issue.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if the arrangements to have the Fontana Redevelopment Agency cover the infrastructure costs at the Southridge development were completely on the up and up, and whether he had any misgivings about those arrangements.
The Sentinel asked if at any point during his having been the Fontana Redevelopment Agency attorney, Deitsch in private or in closed sessions or in the backroom had tried to dissuade the Fontana City Council, which doubled in the role of the city’s redevelopment agency board, from underwriting the infrastructure costs for the Southridge project.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch why he and Sabo had gone along with the Fontana Redevelopment Agency’s continued subsidization of the Southridge Village development through the issuing of bonds and the securing of loans to cover the cost of infrastructure after the graft involving Ratelle, Redman and the Ashby brothers became apparent.
The Sentinel asked Deistsch when he learned about the bribery and graft that was taking place.
The Sentinel asked if, when the information about Ten-Ninety kicking back to Ratelle surfaced, the discovery had given Deitsch pause.
The Sentinel asked why, in the aftermath of the discoveries about the bribes and kickbacks passing from Redman and the Ashby brothers to Ratelle, why Deitsch did not take some action to end the redevelopment agency’s subsidization of the Southridge Village project.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if, essentially, he believed then and now believes that the belated discovery of the collusion between Ratelle and the Ten-Ninety Corporation’s principals, coming after the bonds were issued and the loans made, administratively precluded action from being taken to in some fashion rescind the infrastructure subsidization.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch why, after he learned that the Ten-Ninety Corporation was the purchaser of the certificates of participation and the deal involved graft, bribery and collusion as well as the misrepresentation that the Ten-Ninety Corporation could not secure financing to carry out the provision of infrastructure, he did not involve legal and civil authorities such as the district attorney, the California Attorney General, the FBI or the Securities and Exchange Commission in redressing the situation.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch why he and Sabo did not take some steps to address the criminality Ratelle and Ten-Ninety were engaged in.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if he and Sabo were concerned that if they raised the issue of the untoward arrangements involving Ratelle and the Ten-Ninety Corporation, Ratelle would terminate the Sabo & Deitsch law firm’s contract for the provision of legal services to the city.
The Sentinel inquired if it was the consideration that Sabo & Deitsch had a lucrative contract with the city for the provision of legal services to the city and Ratelle’s ability as city manager to terminate the law firm’s contract which purchased his and Sabo’s silence.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if he could defend his action or lack thereof with regard to his involvement as the Fontana Redevelopment Agency attorney during the Southridge Village development chapter of Fontana’s history.
The Sentinel asked if from his perspective at this point Deitsch believes that it was his relative youth and inexperience in the 1980s that accounted for his lack of confidence in himself and his standing which stopped him from preventing Ratelle and the Ten-Ninety Corporation from bilking the City of Fontana and its taxpayers out of the $376.8 million total paid to retire the bonded and loan indebtedness in full or the $204.1 million paid to the Ten-Ninety Corporation to retire the bonded indebtedness.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if he and Sabo had shrunk from taking action because of threats made by the principals of the Ten-Ninety Corporation against him or his law firm.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if, with more than three decades of hindsight, he now wishes he and Sabo had handled the situation in Fontana in the 1980s differently, and if he were confronted with that situation today, what he would do.
With regard to Fontana Redevelopment Agency Director Neil Stone’s ownership of property within a redevelopment project area in the city, Deitsch was asked if he considered that circumstance to be legal. Deitsch was asked why he and Sabo did not redress that situation at the time.
The Sentinel also sought from Deitsch his attitude with regard to the double- and triple-dipping he and Sabo engaged in and the double and triple-dipping Best Best & Krieger has engaged in. He was asked point blank if he considered double- and triple-dipping to be a lawful practice. He was asked if he considered double-dipping or triple-dipping to be ethical.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if he sees any conflict in a lawyer to a public agency or municipality serving in the capacity of agency counsel or city attorney who is advising that entity with regard to means of financing and making recommendations in that regard, followed by that attorney serving as bond counsel when that agency or municipality issues bonds as a means of financing. He was asked a similar question with regard to such an attorney serving as disclosure counsel with regard to the issuance of bonds.
Deitsch was asked if he believed it to be legal or ethical for one member of a firm to advise a public agency or municipality with regard to its financing options and for another member of that attorney’s firm to subsequently function in the capacity of bond counsel or disclosure counsel if and when that agency or city resolved to issue bonds to meet its financing needs.
Deitsch was asked if he sees a conflict in an attorney offering advice to a client to engage in the issuance of bonds when that attorney and/or that attorney’s firm stands to derive income by providing a service ancillary to the issuance of those bonds, such as fees or a percentage paid to bond counsel or disclosure council with regard to the bonds’ issuance.
Deitsch was asked if he could offer a defense of both the Sabo & Deitsch and the Best Best & Krieger firms’ patterns, when redevelopment agencies yet existed, of engaging in double- and triple-dipping with regard to the city attorney’s function, redevelopment agency attorney’s function and the bond counsel’s function. He was asked about his awareness of the conflicting California Attorney General’s Office opinions with regard to the practice of double- and triple-dipping.
The Sentinel asked Deitsch if he believed his past history of double- and triple-dripping compromised his integrity and could yet damage his credibility with Upland’s mayor and city council.
Deitsch was asked if he could be relied upon to properly ride herd on city staff in Upland should one or more of the employees at Upland City Hall run afoul of the law, given the manner in which he and Sabo allowed Jack Ratelle and Neil Stone to engage in illegal or highly questionable activity in their capacities as high ranking staff in Fontana.
Just prior to press time, the Sentinel had not heard back from Deitsch, at which point an attempt to reach him by phone was made. That effort proved successful. Deitsch was pleasant, and straightforwardly confirmed that he had received the Sentinel’s email. Asked if he could speak to the issues in the email, Deitsch said, “I appreciate the email. I have no comment, but I thank you very much. I appreciate the call.”
Within the legal community, Deitsch is well thought of. The Best Lawyers in America®, a publication which highlights what its publisher and editors say are the top six percent of private practicing attorneys in the United States, has consistently included Deitsch in its 2012 through 2021 editions in the publication’s sections relating to lawyers engaged in practicing land use and zoning law as well as municipal law.
Dozens Of County Schools On The Brink Of Reopening
Some San Bernardino County elementary schools will reopen as early as next week, officials with the San Bernardino County Health Department have indicated.
A multitude of factors went into the decision to attenuate what has been a key provision of the steps that were taken in March 2020 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Since that time, the shuttering of the county’s schools have been constant. Now, roughly two months after a surge in the sometimes deadly virus, there has been a lull in its spread, and vaccines against the disease are being widely administered.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who in November and December called for the intensification of the precautions he first mandated eleven months ago before successfully contesting last month a petition to the California Supreme Court brought against him and the State of California by the County of San Bernardino seeking that those restrictions be set aside, has reached the conclusion that the threat brought on by COVID-19, the earliest recognized serious version of the virus with the greatest lethal potential, is on the wane, at least for the time being.
The state last year created a four-tiered, color-coded system intended to chart the seriousness of the outbreak county-by-county based on metrics of the spread of the condition. The rankings range from the most serious or widespread purple or tier one, to substantial red or tier two, to moderate orange or tier three, to minimal yellow or tier four.
From the time the tier ranking system was put in place, San Bernardino County has consistently fallen into the red or purple tier, and remained in the widespread category into the fall and winter of 2020. By November and December, San Bernardino County had the highest known infection rate among the state’s 58 counties, which called into question the rationale for the county’s filing of the legal action against Newsom seeking an exit from the restrictions he had imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the seriousness of the pandemic and the deaths that escalated throughout the fall and into the winter, a general social fatigue with the restrictions had set in amongst a major portion of the state’s population. Groundwork to prepare for the eventual opening of schools began in October.
School districts throughout the state as early as last summer were applying for waivers to allow them to reopen. Ultimately, the state in processing those requests formulated criteria to evaluate them, one of which included how the county where those schools are located stands on the four-tier scale. The state’s coordination with the various county departments of health on the school opening issue involves determining whether the districts have a reopening plan and what each plan consists of. Within the same district, some schools have sought to reopen while others have not. By the middle of November, 109 San Bernardino County elementary schools sought a waiver. All of those, along with others submitted later that month and in December have been evaluated by the state. It appears that all but two of the schools that applied have been granted permission to open. At least 120 other applications to open have been submitted by San Bernardino County schools and remain pending, subject to evaluation.
Not all of the schools now free to open will do so by next week.
In some districts, reopening is largely dependent upon teachers having been vaccinated against COVID-19. The state has now allocated ten percent of California’s allotment of vaccine to inoculate teachers and other school staff members.
As of yesterday, 138 schools in the county had been given approval for their reopening safety plans. All of those schools can reopen at will.
A factor in the permission being granted for reopening is that the county’s new infection rate has been dropping drastically over the last three weeks. According to available testing statistics, the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people has been in decline from February 4 onward and had fallen below 25 per 100,000 for four consecutive days, from Monday through Thursday of this week. That compares favorably to the 52 new cases per 100,000 the county logged on February 2.
Another factor in the decision to open schools is the medical community’s recognition that school age children have a relatively strong resistance of COVID-19. This is because children from the ages of 5 to 12 who are educated in elementary school settings historically are sharing among themselves viruses such as the common cold on a constant basis.
These include common human coronaviruses, such as the relatively benign 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1 types, which usually manifest in mild to moderate symptoms involving upper-respiratory tract impacts virtually indistinguishable from the common cold. Researchers have theorized that the immunity these children cultivate from those exposures are effective in warding off or attenuating, in the vast majority of cases, COVID-19.
Supervisors Sign Conflict Waiver To Let Adversary’s Firm Represent The County
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors earlier this month consented to move ahead with the hiring of a law firm to represent it in one case while that firm is representing a party the county is suing in another case.
On February 9, the board of supervisors, in action that County Counsel Michelle Blakemore recommended, approved what is in legal terms referred to as a “waiver of conflict of interest.” That conflict, Blakemore said, “arises out of Reed Smith LLP’s proposed representation of the County of San Bernardino in pursuit of the recovery of insurance coverage and Reed Smith LLP’s representation of a party adverse to the County of San Bernardino.”
Lawyers are prohibited from representing a client who is either a being sued or has sued another of that lawyers clients unless all parties involve sign waivers of their right not to have as a legal representative a lawyer who or a law firm that is working on behalf of someone involved in a legal action against them.
The office of county counsel is San Bernardino County’s stable of in-house attorneys. In addition to the lawyers within the office of county counsel, the county employs outside attorneys when the legal matters the county is involved in entail an area or areas of the law its in-house lawyers do not possess expertise in.
Such a conflict is inherent in a case the county had brought against Blue Cross, a medical insurance provider, according to Blakemore. Reed Smith LLP represents Blue Cross, she said.
In a report dated February 9, 2021, which was prepared for the board of supervisors’ February 9 meeting but which was in actually prepared ahead of time, Blakemore told the board of supervisors, “In 2020, multiple settlement agreements were reached on behalf of San Bernardino County, the San Bernardino County Flood Control District, and various employees and elected officials. Insurance carriers familiar with the underlying cases have indicated they will not provide coverage for these settlements and associated defense costs. Retaining outside counsel that specializes in insurance coverage advice and litigation is essential to assisting the county and flood control district with the process of ensuring the proper recovery from the insurers under the applicable insurance policies. The office of county counsel intends to contract with Reed Smith LLP, a law firm that has the specialized skills, knowledge, experience and expertise in the area of insurance coverage litigation needed to effectively assist, advise, litigate and otherwise represent the county and flood control district in their recovery efforts.”
Blakemore continued, “In considering this representation of the county and flood control district, Reed Smith LLP has identified a conflict of interest from its representation of Blue Cross of California dba Anthem Blue Cross and Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Company in connection with an action filed by the county entitled County of San Bernardino dba Arrowhead Regional Medical Center v. Blue Cross of California dba Anthem Blue Cross, et al. Case No. CIVDS1723565. This Blue Shield action involves various alleged underpayments for certain medical services at the county-owned hospital. The legal issues in the Blue Shield matter are unrelated to the legal services to be provided to the county regarding the insurance recovery services discussed above. No client information received or expected to be received by Reed Smith LLP in the course of its representation of the county in this insurance recovery matter is material to its representation of a party that is adverse to the county in the Blue Shield matter. Furthermore, in conformance with the professional rules of responsibility that govern an attorney’s representation of clients, appropriate ethical screens have been instituted by Reed Smith LLP to ensure that no confidential information pertaining to the county will be shared with Blue Cross or the attorneys acting to represent Blue Cross.”
Blakemore offered the supervisors an assurance that “Reed Smith LLP’s attorneys and staff working on the Blue Shield matter will not perform any work, discuss or have access to documents or information related to the county’s insurance recovery matter. Similarly, Reed Smith LLP’s attorneys and staff working on this matter will not perform any work, discuss or have access to documents or information related to the Blue Shield matter.”
Blakemore said, “County counsel has reviewed the waiver of conflict of interest and believes that as a result of the ethical walls in place, Reed Smith LLP will minimize the risk of prejudice to the county in its representation of the county in this matter.”
The board of supervisors, acting as the top authority overseeing the county, the flood control district and the county hospital, acknowledged a conflict of interest existed and approved the waiver of an actual conflict of interest, authorizing Reed Smith LLP to pursue the recovery of coverage from the flood control district’s insurance carrier.
Analysis Shows Remains Found On January 29 In Wonder Valley Are Those Of Erika Lloyd
Skeletal remains found near Amboy Road and Danby Road in Wonder Valley on Sunday, January 31 have been identified as those of Erika Lloyd, who had been missing since mid-June.
The confirmation of Lloyd’s death brings painful closure to eight months of mystery and dismay relating to her disappearance, which came after a frenetic six days during which the single mother was searching for solace in the midst of what was for her the overwhelming tension brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Her pursuit of relief ultimately ended in her death in the unforgiving landscape of San Bernardino County’s remote Mojave Desert Outback.
Lloyd, who would now be 38, was 37 at the time of her disappearance.
The maddeningly baffling details of what now appear to have been Lloyd’s last days on earth, in which she drove 503 miles from her Bay Area home to Joshua Tree National Park then back to her home and then back to the national park, covering those 1,599 miles in the course of four days, are no more understandable than they have been from the outset of her vanishing.
The remains were identified as those of Lloyd through dental records. The results of an autopsy that was to be performed have not been released, and there was no indication if that autopsy or any other forensic examination has been completed. No cause of death has been disclosed.
Though Lloyd’s death and the circumstances leading up to it remain under investigation, information that has been disclosed to this point supports a conclusion of misadventure rather than foul play.
Statements made by her friends and family to a variety of media outlets suggest that the COVID-19 crisis had put a crimp in Lloyd’s work as a beautician, negatively impacting her cash flow. There have been suggestions that she was seeking to make a getaway to the national park as a break from the challenges in her life.
Of note is that before leaving, she deleted the contents of her Facebook page, though she remained active on Instagram until June 15.
According to her sister-in-law, Lloyd was “under a lot of stress and wanted to get away and unplug.”
An unconfirmed report is that one of Erika’s friends, whose precise identity or gender is not available through any source found by the Sentinel, moved to Twentynine Palms in April 2020. There has been speculation that Lloyd had perhaps made the trip to see that person.
On June 11, she left her 12-year-old son in the care of a friend in Walnut Creek before departing.
There is evidence suggesting she covered the entire 533 miles between Walnut Creek and Joshua Tree National Park on Thursday, June 11, and was camping at the Jumbo Rocks campground the nights of June 11 and Friday, June 12.
Early on Saturday, June 13, she set out on a return trip to Walnut Creek, arriving later that day, and spent the night there with her son and her roommate. The following day, Sunday, June 14, she departed Walnut Creek, again without her son, to return to the Jumbo Rocks campground, where, she represented to her friends, two people identified simply as “James” and “Christian” were looking after her campsite and, presumably, her camping gear. There is credible evidence to suggest that Lloyd arrived at Jumbo Rocks Campground in the late afternoon of June 14. In her journal that was recovered, Lloyd noted that James and Christian were not at the campground when she arrived. According to Lloyd’s mother, she spoke with her daughter for the last time on June 14 or June 15. She said Erika was “talking really fast” and it sounded like she was driving. There was no known telephonic contact between Lloyd and anyone after that.
Park rangers on Monday, June 15 came across Lloyd’s vandalized 2006 Black Honda Accord in the parking area for the Indian Cove campground, some 21.9 miles from Jumbo Rocks but still within the confines of 1,234 square-mile Joshua Tree National Park. There was no camping equipment in the car or in its immediate vicinity when the rangers observed the vehicle. The windshield on the passenger’s side in the front had been broken, and the dashboard damaged. It is believed, based on incomplete information available to the Sentinel, there was at that point damage to the back window, as well. The rangers noted the vehicle’s presence in a report, and left a note on the car. That evening, the car had been removed.
The next day, Tuesday June 16, a video captured the car leaving the north entrance into/exit from Joshua Tree National Park at 1:20 p.m, and the car was later videoed passing a school in Twentynine Palms at 2:50 p.m.
Around 4 p.m. on June 16, after being summoned by a report from a Wonder Valley resident, the California Highway Patrolman spotted Lloyd’s Accord parked on Shelton Road, east of Twentynine Palms, north of the intersection with Highway 62, facing south toward the highway, some 23 miles from Jumbo Rocks campground. The car was blocking the roadway such that it inhibited passage on Shelton Road, which is unpaved. The CHP summoned Twentynine Palms-based Bailey’s Auto Repair & Towing to tow the car. David Bailey, the proprietor of the tow company, subsequently told News Channel 3, based in the Coachella Valley, that the Accord’s rear window was broken, that the front windshield was smashed on the passenger side, that the airbag had deployed and the radio was damaged.
It is believed that in towing the Accord, vibration from traveling the rough roads into Twentynine Palms caused the back window to completely fragment.
In addition, Bailey said, there was damage to the outside front of the vehicle in that the bottom of the radiator and the air conditioning condenser were pushed backwards as if the car had hit a very large object head-on. Bailey speculated that the car had run into a berm beside the road near the intersection of Highway 62 and Shelton Road.
Beginning on June 16, Lloyd’s friends calling her cell phone encountered no answer. They continued to try to reach her.
On Wednesday, June 17, her family reported her missing, giving indication she might be in the area of Joshua Tree National Park. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department dispatched a helicopter to scour the area. That effort was not fruitful.
Lloyd’s camping gear was located at a camping site in Jumbo Rocks Campground. An expensive Yeti cooler she was not known to have owned was found among her possessions at the campsite.
The Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station was put on a special alert to be on the lookout for any sightings of her throughout the entirety of the more than 3,000 square mile desert area that includes Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley and outlying areas. Park Rangers began searching areas within the park. Sheriff’s deputies, including ones with canines, searched areas at the entrance of the park and its periphery, as well as along Highway 62.
The Joshua Tree Search and Rescue Team engaged in an effort to find her or spot any signs that she was in the area.
On June 19, Lloyd’s parents caught a flight from Maryland to California in an effort to help with and intensify the search for their daughter. They posted photos of her and posters alerting the public to her disappearance in the area within the national park as well as in and around Twentynine Palms and Wonder Valley.
Friends and family persisted in trying to reach her by calling her cell phone. On June 20, it was answered by a man who said he had found the phone on June 18 “on Cottonwood,” that is on Cottonwood Drive in Twentynine Palms.
On July 22, 2020, a dirt bike rider found human remains in the desert at a location not precisely delineated.
On August 8, 2020, a man who was going shooting in the desert found a badly decomposed body on Shelton Road in Wonder Valley.
Meanwhile, the Lloyd family, still intent on finding Erika, intensified its efforts. Her parents leased space on billboards in the Morongo Valley to feature oversized and highly visible photos of their daughter and make notice of her being missing.
Doug Billings, a mining and cave expert who is familiar with the area and possesses global positioning, mapping and data-cataloging equipment that allows him and the team he is working with to carry out a methodical survey of the vast desert landscape, joined as a volunteer in the search effort.
While conducting his search in the areas he believed Lloyd was likely to have become lost in or perished, Billings’ search team came upon a red bike later determined to be the one ridden by James Escalante, who disappeared on June 25, 2020 from an area very near to where Lloyd’s damaged and/or vandalized car was found abandoned near the intersection of Highway 62 and Shelton Road.
Six bodies were found in the area in or around Wonder Valley in the 13 months and eight days between December 23, 2019 and January 31, 2021
Human remains were found in Joshua Tree National Park on December 23, 2019. On January 14, 2020 that body was identified as that of Paul Miller.
On January 16, 2020, human remains were found in Joshua Tree National Park. On February 12, 2020, those were identified as Tawny Camarillo, who was last seen on May 13, 2019, in the area of Yucca Valley. Camarillo was reported missing on May 14, 2019.
On July 22, 2020, a dirt bike rider found human remains in the desert at a precise location not identified by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Those remains have not been identified.
On August 8, 2020, proximate to Shelton Road and Highway 62, a body later determined to be that of Escalante was found.
On an undisclosed date in roughly the same timeframe, a body was found approximately a quarter of a mile south of Amboy Road and Wilson Road.
On Sunday January 31, Lloyd’s body was discovered by hikers in a field near Amboy Road and Danby Road.
According to Billings, Lloyd’s skeletal remains were found roughly 2.2 miles northwest of where her car was abandoned.
Billings said the circumstances relating to Lloyd’s disappearance and where she was found is a relatively strong indication that Lloyd perished after an accident, possibly a collision with a sand berm to the side of Highway 62, as was stated by David Bailey. He said Lloyd may have sustained some type of head injury, compounded with possible mental and emotional distress. Emphasizing that he could not make any pronouncement with total certainty, Billings said he believed that Lloyd, who was not familiar with the desert area and was already likely disoriented, probably ran into a barrier on the side of the road at a high enough rate of speed to disable the vehicle and injure herself.
“The airbag deployed, so I don’t see how she couldn’t have banged her head pretty hard,” Billings said. “Unfamiliar with area and first time exiting the Utah Trail north exit, she easily could have overshot Highway 62, thinking the Marine Corps base in the distance was the actual town. She could have mistaken some of the structures on the Marine Corps base as being buildings in the City of Twentynine Palms before she crashed, which would put her out on Amboy Road,” he said, and she likely then went on foot in that direction rather than taking Highway 62. “She probably began walking, and went just about as far as that, two to two-and-a-half miles,” Billings said. “She was already disoriented. It was hot. Not as hot as it gets in July or August, but hot enough. She easily could have suffered heat stroke.”
The only information presently available that might contradict a conclusion of misadventure, Billings said, is that Lloyd’s body was discovered a little less than a week after heavy rains in the desert. If she had been buried in a shallow grave, he said, the heavy flow of water that occurred might have carried the earth on top of her away, leaving her body exposed, whereupon she was found on January 31.
“The first heavy rains since she went missing occurred the week before her remains were found, he said.
Billings said investigators might be able to piece together whether or not it was the case that Lloyd had been killed and buried by means of a forensic examination to determine the degree to which her body or her clothes had been bleached or had not been bleached by the sun. If one side of her corpse was not significantly more bleached than the other, Billings said, that would tend to disprove his theory that no foul play was involved, he said. “But understand,” he said, “I am by no means an expert on forensics, with my specialty being the local geography.”
Colin Lloyd, Erika’s brother, in a posting to the Bring Erika Home Facebook page that has since been taken down, wrote, “There is no easy way for me to tell you all this and there’s no easy way for any of us to receive it. My wish is that we can all lean in a little closer, hold each other up, and remind each other more often that we’re here for one another with open arms and endless love; it’s what she would have wanted; it’s the spirit of who she was.”
Colin Lloyd’s posting continued, “We would like to thank the men and women of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, to include their families, all the men and women who performed searches in the desert, Doug Billings and his friends who assisted in the search, the residents of 29 Palms and Wonder Valley. You have all been nothing short of a miracle for us.”
He said his sister’s smile will live on in the memories of everyone who knew her.
“Remember her, cherish her memory, celebrate moments past, and laugh; she would always make you laugh,” Colin Lloyd posted. “Erika adored everyone; she left a bright smile on everyone’s heart; she would remind you of who you truly were and how important and loved you were; she warmed your soul.”
Do Orange Groves Fit Into Redlands’ Future Economy?
By John P. Beall
There’s a lot of talk about the use of grove land in modern-day Redlands. Yes, the city’s jolly little orange-man mascot appears all over public art, packing labels adorn the freeway underpasses (proposed by my brother a decade ago, in fact), children of quarantined households run citrus stands in their front yards, and during the pandemic we see orange hearts and masked citrus signs around town. But in the wake of the recent decision to allow the demolition of the nine acres of orange grove on the J. W. England estate for another tract development, as well as acres of grove land yielding to institutionally-developed industrial real estate and fulfillment centers, this may leave many wondering, “Is there no room for oranges in a modern Redlands?”
When I was growing up, conventional wisdom said that with the loss of labor programs like the Bracero Program, the advent of industrial citrus in places like Florida, and the smaller average size of local fruit meant that “orange groves did not pay.” In fact, certain city officials have even publicly commented along these lines on social media networks, something which one official did acknowledge the city or its officials are not supposed to take a stance on. In reading the most recent city general plan, which calls for zero acres of undeveloped land within city limits within the next 30 years, and given how a larger tax base and more developer fees are to provide the city a way out of its financial straits, it seems the city’s stance is, “Pull ‘em out by the fistful. It’s picking time!”
Here’s why that’s a problem: My high school history teacher, Tom Atchley, tells a story about life in the pre-Environmental Protection Agency Inland Empire where one could walk out the front door and not see the mountains for the entire summer because of smog. Air quality and heat were some of the reasons why Redlanders who could afford it left the area for the summer for Corona del Mar or the mountains. Parenthetically, this indeed means there is a class component to over-exposure to poor air. Air quality is a problem in Southern California in general, and particularly in the Inland Empire, because we are a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, with the mouth of the valley pointed toward the coast. Consequently, when the ocean winds blow inland, this carries smog and air pollution into the valley, where it remains. In an area that rarely gets a snow day, school-aged students remain indoors from physical education, or during fire season remain indoors due to poor air quality conditions. This is why Richard Nixon, controversial as he is, raised on a citrus farm in Yorba Linda back when Orange County actually grew the fruit for which it is named, was oddly enough the president responsible for founding the Environmental Protection Agency on December 2, 1970. Well, chalk one up for the Republicans! Obviously, air quality has improved nationally over the last 50 years the EPA has existed, but the eradication of pollution is not a done deal, least of all in areas prone to the ill-effects of air pollution.
The tides are reversing, and air pollution is getting worse in the Inland Empire. While the forces at play are bigger than just Redlands, it is time policymakers wake up to what their policies mean in the big picture. Changed global supply chains drive increased demand for importation through the Port of Los Angeles. In fact, the Port of Los Angeles is the single busiest port in the Western Hemisphere, clocking in at 9.46 million twenty foot trailers in 2018. That means an average of 25,917 trailers heading through Southern California by semi-truck or flatbed railroad car, all 365 days per year. This is partly because it is the single largest port in the United States for the reception of imports from the Far East, as global supply chains began shifting with federal trade policies in the period between 2002 and 2008. Part of this shift is also driven by the increase in size of the cargo ships. The Port at Los Angeles is one of the few ports on the Pacific seaboard that can receive these “mega-ships,” which are so big that they are unable to fit through the Panama Canal or beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to arrive at port in the Bay Area. This is the force that carries, and will continue to carry, trucks through Redlands on the I-10 whether or not those goods are warehoused in the Inland Empire. However, this is why the Inland Empire is now considered a gateway market for investors in industrial real estate.
Redlands policymakers do play a role in how this market force impacts our community. As Redlands develops more and more fulfillment centers, the warehouses from which products ordered over the internet are shipped, the citizens of Redlands encounter incalculable but real costs. There is increasing demand on our roadways as an increasing tide of trucks enter and leave our area using roads that our local, county, state, and federal tax dollars pay to maintain. There is a commensurate deterioration of our roadways and streets. There is also more demand on our energy grids from large commercial properties. Additionally, the increased traffic and traffic backlogs that trucks create cause an increase in air pollution with more vehicles idling or driving at less-efficient speeds.
We benefit from increased commercial activity. I am certainly not anti-Amazon. That does not mean there are not costs, however, and unfortunately when the trucks leave, we still breathe the air. This has public health impacts; the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency among others both note the increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as asthma in communities with increased exposure to air pollution. Over 23 million Americans and 6 million American children suffer from asthma. Zooming out further, the World Health Organization notes that globally over 4 million people die annually from health conditions related to air pollution, more than any other single cause in their study, including lack of access to clean water, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and even COVID-19. While we all are exposed to poor air quality, those less mobile or less fortunate can often find themselves more exposed than other people to these forces.
I think all of us can agree on the importance of green space in counteracting the deleterious effects of air pollution, and in Redlands we are blessed with an abundance of trees that beautify our city and clean our air. I know this will sound odd, but as someone working in finance, I do this math and research on carbon emissions and offsets often. Here are some interesting facts regarding trees recapturing carbon dioxide:
• According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 60 mature trees, defined as at least ten years old, can remove one metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) on average from the atmosphere per year.
• Also according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average density of an acre of healthy forest is 60 trees per acre, so we can say one acre of mature trees removes one metric ton of CO2 from the air each year.
• Some types of forest are even better at sequestering CO2, like rainforests, which remove on average 2.5 metric tons of CO2 per acre per year.
• Commercial groves and orchards are planted more densely than natural forests. Citrus and avocado groves are planted at an average of 110 trees per acre, apple orchards (looking at you, Oak Glen) at 150 trees per acre, and almond groves (like those being allowed to die and be torn out in the Central Valley for reasons touted as an environmentally-conscious conservation of water) anywhere between 75 and 180 trees per acre.
By this math, all this means that an acre of citrus land could be over 80 percent more effective at carbon sequestration than an acre of U.S. forest land, and only 28 percent less effective than an acre of rainforest in the Amazon. Put plainly, an acre of grove land is closer in efficiency to an acre of rainforest in the Amazon than an average acre of forest land here in the United States.
The East Valley was home to over 15,000 acres of citrus groves at the turn of the 20th Century. Today there are 2,500 acres in active commercial production and still more smaller parcels that surround the scenic and historic grove homes of Redlands. This means the commercial groves of Redlands offset on average 4,500 metric tons (or over 9.9 million pounds) of CO2 from the air annually. The remaining commercial grove land alone offsets 27.8 million U.S. ton-miles of truck cargo each year. If all 15,000 acres were still standing, the total acreage could have offset 92.6 million U.S. ton-miles of truck cargo.1 In the case of the J.W. England groves, those nine acres could pull an average 16.8 metric tons of CO2 annually from the air.
We can all speak in favor of the benefits of cleaner air and less air pollution, but we need to acknowledge that the war on carbon emissions globally is not fought only in far-off Brazil. Certainly, Redlands is not going to end the issues of global air pollution single-handedly, but public policy choices made in Redlands every day can fight air pollution right here in this valley. Redlands should certainly still be able to grow, but at a certain point we have to acknowledge that tearing out orange groves to do so is a costly choice that future generations of this city will curse this generation for making.
“Without vision a people perish.” -Proverbs 29: 18-27
John P. Beall is a fifth generation Redlander, a former member of the City of Redlands Parks Commission and a utility-scale green energy investment professional. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Footnote: 1An average freight truck fully-loaded moves a max of 10 tons an average of 45,000 miles per year, meaning each truck generates 72.9 metric tons of CO2 on average every year. Long-distance semis on average 100,000 miles per year according to Federal Highway Administration. Trucks generate on average 162 grams of CO2 per US ton-mile, or 6,172 US ton-miles/metric ton of CO2. In 2018, trucks moved 68% of all freight domestically by weight (16.5B tons total, or 11.22B tons by trucks). Thus the US average ton-mileage in 2018 is 504.9Q US ton-miles, creating appx. 81.8T metric tons of CO2 in just 2018.
Applications From Residents For County Redistricting Commission Berth Sought
Interested San Bernardino County residents are being called upon to apply to assist the board of supervisors in redrawing the county’s supervisorial district boundaries. Every ten years following each census, the board of supervisors must redraw the five districts’ boundaries, conditional upon population changes.
Each board member is to appoint one member to the San Bernardino County Redistricting Commission along with one alternate. The board’s appointments to the commission are to be made on April 20.
“I encourage residents to apply to serve on the redistricting commission,” said Fifth District Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr. “The decisions made by the commission will impact our community for the next decade. We must ensure equity, fairness, and transparency in the process.”
Members of the commission must meet certain criteria, Limitations on the commission’s membership include an exclusion of those who are heavily active politically.
Each member to be chosen must be registered to vote in the county. Each commissioner may not be an elected county official or a family member, staff member, or paid campaign staff member of an elected county official.
Those who have served as a staff member of an elected official during the past four years is not eligible to serve as a commission member. Nor can a commissioner have served in elected office or campaigned as a candidate for an elected office in the last four years.
Furthermore, anyone who has served as a member of a political party central committee during the past four years is ineligible. Those who have contributed more than $500 per year to any elected office candidate in the past four years cannot be a San Bernardino County Redistricting Commission member, either.
The seven-member San Bernardino County Redistricting Commission will consist of two members appointed by the presiding judge of the Superior Court, one of whom is to serve in the capacity of the commission chair. The remaining members of the commission will be nominated by the members of the board of supervisors, with each supervisor appointing a single commissioner and his or her back-up or alternate member.
The commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting in May.
Commission members and alternates will receive a stipend of $100 for each meeting they attend and reimbursement for mileage exceeding 20 miles round trip from their home.
Applications signed in ink must be postmarked no later than April 5 or hand-delivered to the clerk of the board of supervisors’ office by 5 p.m. on April 5.
The application is available at
1-02-12-090449-457 or by contacting the Clerk of the Board at (909) 387-4831.