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Former Assistant Fontana Police Chief Alan Hostetter has been charged in a federal indictment with participating in the January 6, 2021 Washington, D.C. insurrection, in so doing disrupting a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol at which the tallying of the electoral college votes for the November 3, 2020 election was ongoing.
According to an indictment unsealed yesterday, June 10, Hostetter was among five so-called “three percenters” who sojourned from Southern California to the nation’s capital earlier this year to interfere with the orderly transfer of presidential power, and prevent Joseph Biden, whom Hostetter considers a “communist traitor” from succeeding Donald Trump as the nation’s chief executive.
Alan Hostetter, 56, reached the position of Fontana’s assistant chief of police before serving for a short time as La Habra police chief over a decade ago and thereafter retired to San Clemente to become a leading figure in the Southern California Make America Great Again, QAnon, Proud Boys, American Phoenix Project and anti-masking/coronavirus restrictions movements. He is charged in the indictment with obstructing an official proceeding, entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct within a restricted building, disorderly conduct within a restricted building in order to disrupt or impede the government and preventing attendance at an official proceeding, according to Channing D. Phillips, the acting United States attorney in the District of Columbia.
The indictment also names Russell Taylor, Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele, all of whom coordinated with Hostetter in Southern California in advance of their arrival in Washington, D.C., where they rendezvoused and engaged variously in speechmaking and/or other efforts to incite the masses assembled there to action.
Hostetter, of San Clemente; Taylor, 40, of Ladera Ranch; Martinez, 47, of Lake Elsinore; and Mele, 51, of Temecula are charged with federal offenses that include conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds. Taylor is also charged with obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds. Warner, 45, of Menifee, and Kinnison, 39, of Lake Elsinore, are charged with tampering with documents or proceedings and conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds.
After graduating from high school in 1982, Hostetter joined the Army, training as an infantryman. He was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas with the 1st Cavalry Division and did a tour of duty with the 3rd Infantry Division in Aschaffenburg, West Germany. In 1986, after leaving the Army, he was hired by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. In 1989, he transferred to the Fontana Police Department. He was promoted to police corporal in 1993, sergeant in 1996, lieutenant in 2001, subsequently served in 2006 and early 2007 as the chief of the Fontana School District Police Department, returned to the Fontana Police Department as a captain in April 2007 and became assistant chief in December 2007.
While with the Fontana Police Department, Hostetter worked in the patrol division, on the special weapons and tactics team, in the narcotics unit, detective bureau, traffic unit, internal affairs unit, and administration division. His advancement in the department was paralleled by academic achievement. He obtained a bachelor of science degree in education from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a master of public administration degree from California State University, San Bernardino.
As he was working his way up from the rank of patrol officer in Fontana, he married Wendy Hostetter, a police dispatcher who eventually became the police department’s dispatch and communications division supervisor. They had a son, Corey, who was hired as a rookie police officer with the Fontana Police Department in 2016, then worked as a police officer in Upland in 2017 and 2018. Corey Hostetter is no longer working in law enforcement in California.
Alan Hostetter was a graduate of the 212th session of the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy at Quantico, Virginia; Class 38 of the California Police Officers Standards and Training Command College; and Class 105 of the Sherman Block Supervisory and Leadership Institute.
In 2009, there was trouble in the Hostetter marriage. Though he was on the fast track to become police chief, and it was widely anticipated that he would succeed then-Police Chief Rod Jones upon his eventual retirement, Hostetter, perhaps because of his domestic situation, in the fall of 2009 applied for the soon-to-open police chief’s position in the Orange County city of La Habra, a city of 60,000, which at that time was less than a third of the size of then-190,000 population Fontana. In December 2009, Hostetter was selected to serve as chief from among the 20 candidates selected from the applicants for the La Habra job.
Hostetter began as La Habra police chief in January 2010, but remained in place only until May of that year, going out on leave and then taking a disability retirement officially effective as of August 26, 2010. He was 46 years old. He moved to San Clemente.
The following year, he began pulling his pension, which was then pegged at $132,907.32, through the California Public Employees Retirement System. In the years since, his pension, with three percent annual cost of living increases, has grown to $160,495.09.
In 2011, Hostetter began as an instructor/facilitator with the University of Phoenix, teaching undergraduate courses in ethics in criminal justice and graduate courses in budgeting. He remained as an instructor until 2013.
In October of 2011, he founded a company, Public Sector Solutions, which provided investigative services to support private business with workplace investigations. He maintained that company until September of 2017.
Hostetter, who as a police officer had been an advocate of physical fitness for the officers he commanded, after his disability retirement began exploring alternate ways of remaining in good condition. He took up yoga and found it an excellent way to maintain flexibility, suppleness and muscle tone. He rapidly went from being a novice to a dedicated practitioner to a teacher.
In January 2017, he created Alpha Yoga of Orange County, which catered mostly to senior citizens and the wives of wealthy businessmen in San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano. The type of yoga he advocated was particularly focused on the healing and relaxing potential of hypnotic sound, and he would endeavor to create an atmosphere that used American Indian flutes, Tibetan bowls and Aboriginal didgeridoos to create a “sound bath” to serve as the atmosphere in which those who engaged in the exercises he led, stretches and poses known as asanas and vynyasas accompanied by breathing exercises known as pranayama, could get all of the benefits of the yoga experience. Alpha Yoga of Orange County offered relaxation guidance, sound healing, Reiki energy healing, wellness and sleep workshops.
To those who knew him in his previous life as a police officer, an existence in which force and aggression were routine, Hostetter’s transformation was profound, as he talked about eliminating everything other than “good vibes” and seeking out spiritual fulfillment, getting in touch with his own soul and how yoga could make such cosmic realizations for others possible.
Hostetter had made a remarkable physical transformation as well, having gone from the clean cut military/police officer model he had typified in his 20s, 30s and early 40s to a bearded and long-haired guru hippy type.
Then, in a very short period of time, shortly after the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, Hostetter made an abrupt retransformation. Having zigged as an infantryman, police officer and police chief, he zagged as a yogi, and returned to zigging as a self-styled conservative political activist. In April 2020, he abruptly closed down Alpha Yoga of Orange County, instead diverting practically all of his time and energy into the American Phoenix Project, a nonprofit organization, of which he was the founder and director. The American Phoenix Project, he solemnly said, was “dedicated to moving America forward as we come out of this national ‘shelter-in-place’ nightmare. Its broad objectives are to:
1) Fight back against the corruption and abuse taking place at all levels of government, local to national.
2) Reform the main stream media entirely. They must be held accountable.
3) Reform social media platforms so that censorship without a legitimate reason is forbidden.
4) Educate the public regarding vaccinations and vaccination programs. Support medical freedom and medical choice, while resisting any attempt to implement a mandatory vaccination program.
5) Resist any attempt to strip Americans of their civil rights and constitutional protections in the future through quarantines of healthy Americans.”
Virtually overnight Hostetter had become the central figure in the resistance to the State of California’s program to limited the spread of the coronavirus.
Touting the movement he was creating, Hostetter said, “The first action of American Phoenix Project was to file a lawsuit against Gavin Newsom to take down all ‘shelter-in-place’ orders currently in place.”
That lawsuit failed, but Hostetter’s efforts drew to him a sizable contingent of residents either opposed to the government lockdowns from the start or who began to chaff under those restrictions as they continued week after week and month after month.
It was as if he had transformed from being the prophet of yoga, with dozens or scores of followers, to the messiah of resistance to the Deep State, with hundreds of faithful hanging on his every word.
Together with Russell Taylor, he sponsored protests against mandates that citizens wear masks out in public and he led rallies in Orange County against coronavirus restrictions in general last summer, protesting beach closures, defying the civil authorities and daring the local police sent to break up the crowds to arrest him and his fellow protesters.
Of note, Robert Ramsey, with whom Hostetter had served the entirety of his career at the Fontana Police Department and who eventually acceded to the police chief position there in 2016 when Police Chief Rod Jones retired, after a little more than two years in the chief’s position in 2018 had himself retired to San Clemente. Ramsey was often seen at the rallies Hostetter was hosting and leading, and he too went on record against the government’s action in seeking to enslave its citizens by increments through the lockdown justifications.
Those who knew Hostetter primarily as a yoga instructor whose focus on achieving inner peace and oneness with the universe said it was if he had become unhinged virtually overnight, having been sent off the deep end by the government precautions against the spread of COVID-19. Former yoga students relate tales of him growing intemperate and profane, cursing when discussing stay-at-home orders or business-closure mandates. One told of Hostetter viciously upbraiding him for wearing a mask when they had a chance encounter on the street.
Others have consistently depicted Hostetter as reacting virulently, during any discussion he was involved in relating to the lockdown and governmental mandates at that time, to any suggestion that the COVID-19 pandemic represented a legitimate health crisis that was best managed with precautions to limit the spread of the virus and protect those elements of the population most vulnerable to it. The government’s effort to reduce the strain on the healthcare facilities and institutions – hospitals and both acute care and recovery/long term care homes – where those most critically impacted by the disease were to be treated, was an out-and-out ruse to compromise constitutional rights and liberty, he said. Hostetter would dismiss with anger and derision any expression of trust in California’s government or faith that Governor Gavin Newsom was seeking to protect the state’s citizens, insisting his interlocutor had been brainwashed or was a tool of the Democrats and the socialists who had commandeered the State of California and were ruling the roost in Sacramento.
Hostetter said the State of California’s response to the coronavirus outbreaks exposed the Democrats as power mad tyrants hell bent on lording it over California’s citizens. The Democrats in Washington, D.C. were attempting to use the virus as means of recapturing national political primacy, as well, he said.
“There are so many corrupt institutions at the local level, state level and the national level to go after once this lockdown is over,” he said.
The American Phoenix Project was engaging in “a fight back against this tyranny,” he said.
The spread of the coronavirus was nowhere near what it was being represented as, he insisted. The government had skewed the statistics on the disease by “monetizing COVID deaths,” that is, paying hospitals money for every reported COVID-related death of their patients, which he said had induced those hospitals to falsify the cause of death data those institutions kept to falsely show that virtually all who died at those institutions in 2020 had contracted COVID-19.
A comparison of death statistics going back five years demonstrated, he said, “There’s no pandemic. There’s never been a local health emergency.”
He likened the call for self quarantining to being “placed under house arrest. We’re going to be wearing masks for the rest of our lives according to [Dr. Anthony] Fauci [the chief medical advisor to the president]. We are going to be digitally tracked for the rest of our lives. First masks, then vaccines, then vaccine passports. Next thing you know, you’re on the cattle cars.”
He accused Democratic officeholders and the Republicans who failed to oppose them of being “hack politicians. These politicians are bought off by big pharma and God only knows the corruption that is involved in keeping them dogging us and dogging us and dogging us like they have been for a year.”
With the 2020 election approaching, Hostetter became ever more convinced that Donald Trump represented the last hope for humanity, and that his reelection as president was imperative for the United States to survive as a nation.
On September 19, 2020 during a public address in Orange County, he referenced the trade war with China. “The United States was about to win that war and then that war went suddenly literally viral, manufactured in a Wuhan bio-weapons lab,” he said. “The China virus was unleashed on the world, with the Chinese Communist Party flying their infected citizens all across America and all across the world. And whether by design or simple opportunism, the domestic enemies that have been infiltrating and proliferating within the United States for generations now saw their opportunity six months ago to crash the hottest economy on Planet Earth and try to take out the best president ever. These domestic enemies have used this virus to divide us, to strike fear in us, to subjugate and oppress us, with the ultimate goal being to remove President Donald J. Trump, one of the most amazing and effective leaders this country has ever seen.”
Those around him said he was elated in the immediate aftermath of the election, when on election night it appeared that Donald Trump had narrowly gained reelection, seeming to have won in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But with results from the more populous major urban areas of those states coming in the following day, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin slipped from the Republicans grasp and on November 4, 2020, President Trump tweeted from @realDonaldTrump, “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the “pollsters” got it completely & historically wrong!”
From that point on, President Trump and his supporters propounded that the election was being stolen.
On November 12, 2020, during his drive from California to Washington, D.C. where he intended to take part in the million man Make America Great Again March that was to take place on November 14 and make a show of continuing support for the president, Hostetter videoed himself as he was driving through Arkansas, noting that he was on schedule to arrive in Virginia that evening.
“It was so brazen what they did to us, the theft of this election,” he said. “They did this to us in board daylight. They stole this election while everybody was watching, and they were flipping us the middle finger as they did it. The Deep State has been assuming power in this country and slowly taking everything over in this country. There’s been no honest vote probably in decades, if not longer. They think they’re firmly in control and they’re about to be proven otherwise.”
When the million man MAGA March did not result in reversing the presidential election outcome, President Trump’s supporters and their efforts to prevent what they said was the theft of the election coalesced around the hope that Vice President Mike Pence would use his authority as president of the Senate to prevent the hijacking of the election from occurring. President Trump’s advocates believed that when the House of Representatives and the Senate met in a joint session to certify the election, Pence could overturn the election results in favor of Joseph Biden in key swing states by mandating that votes cast there which were in dispute not be counted, thereby making a determination that the Trump-Pence ticket had prevailed in the presidential/vice presidential election.
Hostetter became the self-appointed leader of Southern California’s “Stop the Steal” movement.
Back in Southern California in December at rallies in Orange County, he called upon as many “patriots” as possible to heed the president’s call and go to Washington ahead of the joint session of Congress to certify the election results on January 6 to protest that certification, which would be if it went to Joseph Biden, he insisted, invalid.
At that time, Hostetter spoke almost exclusively in circumstances where he was surrounded by like-minded Trump supporters. On two known occasions, when someone present asked Hostetter what evidence he could marshal to show the election had in fact been stolen, violence nearly erupted.
During one of those rallies, Hostetter propounded that the “elected whores,” meaning the members of Congress, should “fix this mess and keep America America.” Allowing the crooked Democrats who had stolen the election to put their kingpin Joseph Biden in the White House was tantamount to treason, he said, which “patriots” would not stand for. Those members of Congress directly participating in the theft – meaning the Democrats – and the ones passively allowing it to happen – meaning the Republicans who were RINOs or Republicans In Name Only – would suffer the fate of being “tie[d] to a fucking lamppost,” he said.
The indictment alleges that through the late fall and early winter of 2020, the defendants – Hostetter, Taylor, Warner, Martinez, Kinnison and Mele – communicated with each other to plan and coordinate their effort to obstruct and interfere with the joint session of Congress called to certify the electoral college vote at the Capitol on January 6. The defendants communicated through various messaging applications and social media, according to the government, including the encrypted messaging application Telegram, to share information regarding the election; coordinate travel to Washington, D.C.; and promote events sponsored by the American Phoenix Project.
On December 28, 2020, Warner initiated a group text message thread in which he, Mele, Kinnison and Martinez discussed logistics and expenses for a cross-country road trip. On December 29, Hostetter and Taylor texted each other regarding travel and whether they would bring firearms.
On January 1, Taylor created a Telegram chat called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade,” which the defendants, along with more than 30 others, joined and used to identify themselves, communicate and coordinate with each other. In the “about” section, Taylor wrote: “This group will serve as the Comms for able bodied individuals that are going to DC on Jan 6. Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight. We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.”
All of the defendants joined the Telegram group and used it to plan and coordinate their actions together and with others. Taylor explained the purpose of the group and stated, “This thread is exclusive to be utilized to organize a group of fighters to have each other’s backs and ensure that no one will trample on our rights. Also, if there is key intel that we need to be aware of [or] possible threats.” He added: “I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well.” Taylor also asked members to identify if they had previous law enforcement experience, military experience or “special skills relevant to our endeavors.”
Also in the chat, Kinnison explained that he, Mele and Warner “are part of so cal 3%[.] we work well and train with each other” and that the group was “[l]eaving tomorrow and driving instead of flying because our luggage would be too heavy. We will have lots of gear from medical kits, radios, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, plates, goggles, helmets…I think we should clear all text in this chat in the morning of the 5th just in case for opsec [operational security] purposes.”
Prior to leaving California for Washington, D.C., Kinnison, Mele, Martinez and Warner continued to exchange messages on a group text threat to coordinate and plan their trip, including whether they wanted to bring firearms with them on their cross-country drive. Mele told the group “shorter the better. Mine will be able to be stashed under the seat. I’ll bring it. 18” barrel.”
On January 5, at a rally near the U.S. Supreme Court, Alan Hostetter told a frenzied crowd, “Our voices tomorrow are going to put the fear of God in the cowards and the traitors, the RINOs and the communists of the Democrat Party. They need to know, we of the people, 100 million strong, are coming for them if they do the wrong thing.”
At the same rally, Russell Taylor said, “In these streets we will fight and we will bleed before we allow our freedom to be taken from us.”
They would never give in to communists, the Deep State or Antifa, Taylor vowed.
At 11:28 p.m. on January 5, Taylor posted a photo to a chat on another encrypted messaging service showing gear arranged on a bed, including a khaki backpack, a black plate-carrier vest, two hatchets, a walkie talkie-type radio, a stun baton, a helmet, a scarf and a knife. In the caption, he wrote, “Now getting ready for tomorrow.”
On January 6, the defendants congregated on the National Mall for the rally, where Mele, Martinez, Kinnison and Warner posed for a photo. Martinez, Kinnison and Warner flashed a hand signal showing affiliation with the Three Percenter group. Taylor, Hostetter and others walked down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, and Taylor took a selfie-style video as he walked, in which he stated, “We are on the move. Heading up to the Capitol.” At 2:13 p.m., Warner entered the Capitol through a broken window. At approximately 2:30 p.m., Taylor and Hostetter joined rioters on the lower west terrace who were pushing through the line of law enforcement officers. Taylor was carrying a knife in the front chest pocket of his plate carrier vest and urged on rioters before pushing through the police line and moving up the stairs and onto the upper west terrace.
The case against Hostetter, Taylor, Warner, Martinez, Kinnison and Mele was investigated by the FBI’s Washington field office, as well as the Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Capitol Police, with significant assistance provided by the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
Though the indictment alleges Hostetter, Taylor, Warner, Martinez, Kinnison and Mele planned and coordinated their effort to obstruct and interfere with the joint session of Congress and utilized apps and social media to plot their activity and used group texts to talk about travel and whether to bring firearms, Hostetter is not not accused of entering the capitol or carrying a weapon.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. Further assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
In the 156 days since January 6, roughly 465 individuals have been arrested on charges related to the January 6 Capitol breach, including over 130 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. The investigation remains ongoing.
Hostetter told the Sentinel, “What happened January 6 was a total false flag staged event,” meaning that Deep State operatives had infiltrated the ranks of President Trump’s supporters and had engaged in illegal actions for which President Trump’s supporters and those resisting and protesting the theft of the election were now being blamed. As a result of the false flag activity, Hostetter said, he and his fellow defendants were “under the microscope from the Deep State.”
“I never ever engaged in any act of violence,” he said. “I never destroyed one piece of property. I never even entered the Capitol building. I think I maybe got a little too close in their eyes, and sang the national anthem a little too loud, maybe a little off key. We patriot warriors will prevail.”
Hostetter’s attorney, Bill Essayli, in a video statement said that Hostetter may have “used strong language, but that doesn’t make him a criminal.” Essayli said that Hostetter, Taylor, Warner, Martinez, Kinnison and Mele “didn’t commit any acts of violence. They had an opportunity to go into the Capitol. They didn’t do that. They just wanted to voice their opinion that they objected to the certification of the election, as did many members of Congress also place their objections.”
Essayli said a “distinction should be drawn from those who forcibly entered the Capitol or committed damage from the peaceful protesters that were outside of the Capitol protesting.”
Effective on July 2, 2021 members of the San Bernardino City Council will find themselves under greater restrictions pertaining to their votes on actions impacting their campaign donors.
On May 19, the council by a 5-to-2 vote approved an ordinance that augments a campaign contribution ordinance the council passed on September 16, 2020 that set a $4,900 limit on the contributions members of the council can receive. Earlier this month, on June 2, the council ratified the approval of that ordinance with a second required vote, referred to as a second reading. With that vote it also authorized City Manager Robert Field to execute an agreement with the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission for enforcing the regulations and included the funding in the upcoming fiscal year budget to pay for the contract with the Fair Political Practices Commission. The ordinance goes into effect 30 days after the June 2 vote, meaning the new regulations will be in place on July 2.
The most recently passed ordinance requires council members to disclose verbally whether they have received donations greater than $250 from anyone or any entity just prior to a vote impacting that donor if that donation was not already disclosed in writing on their campaign donation disclosure documents that have already been filed.
The council members must also disclose any contributions for a 12-month period prior to any city council action involving the contributor. The ordinance further prevents an applicant coming before the council for project or contract/franchise approval from making a contribution to any member or members of the city council after the application is filed and before the vote is made.
Under the Political Reform Act of 1974, which was passed by the California Legislature 47 years ago, appointed officials are prohibited, under Government Code section 84308, from receiving more that $250 from a party seeking a contract other than one that is competitively bid, a license, a permit, or other entitlement from the panel upon which that appointed official serves. At the municipal level, this most often involves planning commissioners. It does not apply to city council members, as they are elected officials.
The ordinance passed by the council on May 19 extends the prohibition in Government Code section 84308 and the reporting requirement from appointed officials to San Bernardino City Council members.
The impetus for political reform came about because of the open graft engaged in over the last several years by Mayor John Valdivia, who was the city’s Third Ward councilman from 2012 until he was elected mayor in 2018. Baldly and boldly, Valdivia has traded political contributions from individuals with business before the city for city council support he is able to muster for their projects, contracts or franchises.
California law does not prohibit elected officials from taking money from an individual or company and then voting with regard to whether that individual or company is to be provided approval on a project or contract/franchise application, unless it can be determined that there was an explicit quid pro quo in the arrangement. A quid pro quo is said to exist if the vote was made conditional upon the campaign donation being provided.
Valdivia was able to engage in the trading of council approval for projects or contracts/franchises benefiting his donors because in San Bernardino the mayor normally does not vote as a member of the seven-member city council, although he does possess veto power on 4-to-3 or 3-to-2 votes. Thus the votes he was trading on were not his votes but those of his council colleagues.
In the immediate aftermath of his 2018 mayoral victory, Valdivia had a ruling coalition that consisted of the then-newly-elected First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez, then-newly-elected Second District Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, then-Fifth District Councilman Henry Nickel and then-Sixth District Councilwoman Bessine Richard. After Juan Figueroa won a special election held in May 2019 to fill the Third District vacancy created when Valdivia left that post to move into the mayor’s slot, Valdivia controlled five votes on the council. He induced campaign donors to provide money to him in exchange for controlling the council and having it approve the items favorable to those donors.
In relatively short order, however, Sanchez, Ibarra and Nickel, upon fully realizing the degree to which Valdivia was manipulating the ruling council coalition’s votes to funnel money to himself, distanced themselves from Valdivia, breaking his hold on the council. Both Councilwoman Richard and Councilman Figueroa, who had to stand for reelection in 2020 and were in some measure dependent upon Valdivia for campaign funding, including funds he transferred to them from his own campaign war chest or directed to them from individuals grateful to him and them for the votes they had made supporting their projects and contracts/ franchises, remained faithful members of Valdivia’s colaition. Richard, however, was voted out of office in the 2020 election and replaced by Kimberly Calvin. Nickel also failed to gain reelection in 2020. He was replaced by Benjamin Reynoso.
Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett has long been at odds politically with Valdivia. Despite the campaign funding reform ordinance measure passed on May 19 and reconfirmed on June 2 having been formulated by its major sponsor, Councilman Sanchez, as part of an effort to limit Valdivia’s political reach and his corruption of the council, Shorett did not support it. His and Figueroa’s votes were the two opposed to the political reform measure.
Shorett said he was not in favor of the $4,900 campaign contribution limit put in place last September and he did not support the reporting requirements and donation restrictions passed on May 19.
“I object to those limitations, because I have integrity and I am honest and I don’t need to be regulated that way,” Shorett asserted. “I do things properly and I can be trusted. In the same way, I am not in favor of term limits. If someone wants to give me $100,000 so I can stay in office, I think they should be able to do that. Just because you give me money doesn’t mean I am going to sell you my vote. If someone gives me $100,000 and they have a project proposal before the city that comes to the council for a vote and the project is not good for the city, I will do the right thing and not vote for it. I understand there are corrupt people in office like John Valdvia, but that shouldn’t put limitations on honest people in office who are not taking bribes.”
Shorett said, “It is the voters who should hold their elected officials accountable, not regulations. You can’t regulate people into being honest. Either you’re honest or you’re not. If you try to regulate someone who is dishonest, like John Valdivia, he’ll find a way to work around those regulations. A guy like John will figure out another way to get paid off. The only way to deal with a guy like John Valdivia is to vote him out of office. It’s the voters who have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ and just vote the crooks who have been elected before out of office. You can’t regulate irresponsibility and you can’t regulate dishonesty.”
The mystery and controversy over the April 26, 2021 death of Robert Shuey in Blue Jay has deepened, with law enforcement authorities restricting ever more tightly information with regard to exactly how his demise came about, while further information, speculation and conflicting accounts surface on an almost daily basis.
Most provocative of the emerging accounts is that Shuey, who had a criminal record literally as long as his arm, was serving as an informant, and was cooperating with at least one and perhaps several law enforcement agencies. That alone touched off a round of variegated speculation. Suggested by the circumstance was that Shuey had been killed by a local drug dealer in his orbit who has long been active in the San Bernardino Mountains communities, Johnny Garcia. It is also deemed possible that he might have been rubbed out by a Mexican drug cartel believed to be involved in the importation of methamphetamine into Southern California. Others think it is not beyond the realm of the possible that the highly volatile Shuey was killed by an element within the region’s law enforcement structure over concern that he possessed too much information about the oftentimes shady interlocking nature of San Bernardino County’s law enforcement establishment and both organized and solitary criminal elements, one that are subject to investigation, arrest, prosecution and which, nonetheless, inexplicably coexist unmolested by the powers that be.
Shuey’s life was both daring and violent.
In his 30 years, Shuey was charged with 13 separate felonies and more than 20 misdemeanors stemming from 17 different cases/arrests in San Bernardino County alone. He was convicted on seven of those felonies and 11 of the misdemeanors. At the time of his death, two felony charges stemming from a single incident on May 21, 2020 were pending against him, those charges being first degree burglary and assault by means of force likely to cause great bodily injury.
Since turning 18 years old, Shuey was sentenced to prison or jail terms totaling seven years and 257 days.
Among the felony convictions Shuey sustained were for drug dealing, theft, assault, burglary and weapons charges. Several of his misdemeanor charges involved fighting or assault. At the time of his death, the district attorney’s office was considering filing charges, either as misdemeanors or felonies, relating to two physical assaults – indeed severe beatings – he had administered.
Shuey loved to fight and had engaged in far many more physical assaults than he had been criminally charged with. In recent years, he had bragged that he had put over a dozen people into the hospital.
In 2016, an inebriated Shuey beat a uniformed security guard working the grounds of the Lake Arrowhead Marina, Pedro Chavez, to a pulp, because he said, Chavez was flirting with his girlfriend.
Shuey’s savage attack on Alex Opmanis in January 2019 precipitated the July 2019 fatal shooting of Shuey’s friend, Sammy Davis. Indeed, Shuey’s infamy escalated as a result of his role as a catalyst in the death of Davis, 28. Shuey fled the scene after the shooting, gathering up what some believe was crucial evidence that might have served to exonerate Opmanis. Shuey’s involvement in Davis’s death came to public light in the aftermath of Opmanis’s arrest and the filing of murder charges against him.
The events which triggered the July 11, 2019 shooting of Davis went back some six months prior to that. In January 2019, Opmanis, then 27, who had previously made the acquaintance of Shuey through their mutual interest in dirt bike riding, was at the Dogwood bar in Blue Jay. Shuey, who lived not too distant from the bar, invited Opmanis, who had been drinking heavily, to come to his home. Opmanis at some point vomited while he was at Shuey’s house, after which a fight ensued. Opmanis was beaten severely and required hospitalization as a result, losing a portion of his vision in his left eye from the trauma Shuey had inflicted. The doctors treating Opmanis considered it necessary to insert a plate in his head because a portion of his skull had collapsed.
Encouraged by his family, Opmanis filed a civil suit against Shuey. The filing of the suit antagonized Shuey, an avid motorcyclist and gang member with a reputation for stabbing people. During the February-to-June 2019 timeframe, Shuey made repeated threats against Opmanis and his family, on occasion in public places and situations. In reaction, Opmanis obtained a handgun, a Glock 27 .40 caliber, which he routinely carried in his vehicle, a black 2000 Mercedes SUV.
On July 11, 2019 Shuey and another avid motorcyclist, Shane Codman, then 28, had ridden their motorcycles down from the mountain communities first to Corona and then to a “Bike Night” in Riverside, where they met up with Sammy Davis around 6 p.m., in the course of which they were consuming alcohol. The three left Riverside around 8 p.m., riding their motorcycles to return to the mountains. They intended to stop at Goodwin’s Market in Crestline to purchase hamburger and beer before going to Shuey’s home in Blue Jay for a late night barbecue.
Meanwhile, Opmanis had gone to Goodwin’s Market, located on Lake Gregory Drive in Crestline. An external security camera at Goodwin’s Market operated by Scottsdale, Arizona-based Clear Protection Services, Inc. captured a video of the confrontation between Davis and Opmanis, footage which indicated that Shuey at one point moved in to assist Davis in administering a thrashing to Opmanis, and then backed away to use his cellphone to capture a video of Davis pounding on Opmanis. Ultimately, Opmanis managed to retrieve the Glock from his vehicle, with which he fatally shot Davis at the 9:14 p.m. point on the Goodwin’s Market video.
The video shows Codman and Shuey mounting their motorcycles and taking their leave of the parking lot after the shooting, but not before Shuey gathered several items on the ground near the scene of the shooting.
Opmanis is yet awaiting trial in the shooting of Davis, who had spent a considerable portion of the previous decade in prison, having been released shortly before the shooting incident after serving a sentence for assault.
It was anticipated that Shuey was going to be called to testify during Opmanis’s trial. He was considered to be a key witness for both the prosecution and the defense. There have been indications that Mark Geragos and Alexandra Kazarian, who are representing Opmanis, intend to make an issue at trial of the severe beating Opmanis had suffered at the hands of Shuey roughly six months before the shooting of Davis, as well as Shuey’s participation in the assault upon Opmanis on July 11, 2019 just seconds before Davis was fatally shot to establish that Opmanis had a reasonable fear for his safety that justified the discharge of his weapon.
Shuey was yet facing the charges of burglary together with assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injury relating to the incident he was involved in on May 21 of last year in Blue Jay. Shuey was arrested by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies working out of the Twin Peaks sheriff’s substation in the aftermath of that incident.
Shuey had drug-related convictions including drug-trafficking, in particular dealing methamphetamine. There is indication that he was involved in the importation of methamphetamine manufactured in Mexico and that he was associating with a drug dealer working in the San Bernardino Mountains communities, Johnny Garcia. Garcia was formerly involved in the distribution of methamphetamine and more recently began trafficking in fentanyl. Unverified reports are that there were six fentanyl-related deaths in the mountains between early April and mid-May of this year.
There have been contradictory versions of how Shuey died. Initially, it was reported that he had been killed inside his home by a single gunshot to his face. That version was supported by the initial entry into the sheriff’s call/dispatch log referencing the matter as a 187, that is, a showing that the sheriff’s department considered the matter to be a homicide, Penal Section 187, specifically murder, defined as the intentional killing of another. In a highly irregular development, the sheriff’s department’s call/dispatch log was altered to reference the matter as a “DB,” i.e., a dead body. An indication that the department initially considered the matter to be a homicide consists of a screen shot the Sentinel possesses showing the log as it was originally posted prior to its alteration.
More recently, the unofficial story circulating in the mountain communities is that Shuey died at his own hand, either purposefully as a suicide or unintentionally from a drug overdose.
The Sentinel is reliably informed that Shuey expired on the night of April 26 within his home in Blue Jay. The home was locked, and inside it was his now-nearly four-year-old daughter. Sheriff’s department investigators did not arrive on the scene or gain access to the house until the morning of April 27, the Sentinel has learned, which is contrary to a previous report in the Sentinel that investigators arrived at the home on the night of April 26.
Moreover, Shuey’s three-year-old daughter was apparently in the house at the time of his death, and she remained there with her father’s corpse for at least ten and perhaps more than 12 hours until sheriff’s personnel arrived. Further, the Sentinel is told, when investigators arrived and took stock of the situation, they arranged to have a child psychologist/child and family services expert speak to the girl, and she said that the night before a man she did not know had come to the house to speak with her father, and that her father had told her to hide before he engaged with that individual.
This emerging information would seem to indicate that the initial account of Shuey’s death, by homicide, is accurate and that the later suggestion that he had expired by suicide or by an unintended drug overdose is inoperative. The sheriff’s department has not officially embraced the suicide or overdose explanation, but its actions would suggest that it wants or at least previously wanted the public to assume the matter to be a suicide or overdose. The alteration of the call/dispatch log to indicate department personnel were responding to the report of a dead body might be consistent with an effort to prevent any possible suspect in the case from being alerted to specifics that might complicate a de facto homicide investigation.
Of note is that earlier the department stated that it was awaiting the result of toxicology tests. Inquiries about the outcome of those tests by the Sentinel and others have yet to yield a response from the department, more than six weeks after Shuey’s death.
Speculation has run rampant as to what actually happened to Shuey.
If, in fact, he was serving as an informant and he was involved with a Mexican cartel importing methamphetamine to California or if he was involved in Garcia’s drug dealing operation, that might explain his death.
There are contrary indications as to whether Shuey was an informant or not.
Despite his multiple arrests and convictions, Shuey appeared to have dodged having to serve a great deal of time in prison. His accumulated sentences over the years on his convictions totaled more than seven years. Nevertheless, his actual time incarcerated was well under half of that.
In this way, Shuey seemed to be leading a charmed life, oftentimes not being held accountable for what he had done. Within the district attorney’s office, one prosecutor previously expressed frustration at not being able to put Shuey away for a decent interim, at least a decade or more, to keep him off the streets until he had aged to the point where the edge was taken off his aggressiveness and his propensity for violence, and those he was continuously hurting had some measure of protection or isolation from him. With Shuey’s demise, that is a moot point now, but the prosecutor at one point openly stated that the way in which Shuey remained at large was inexplicable to her.
Shuey’s ability to minimize the time he spent in captivity, nevertheless, might not have been a result of his cooperation with law enforcement. His attorney, Gary Wenkle Smith, on at least two occasions kept him insulated from the often rough-edged wheels of justice through skillful lawyering and outmaneuvering the district attorney’s office.
Smith told the Sentinel that it was highly unlikely that Shuey was an informant or cooperating with law enforcement authorities in any way.
“I can’t imagine Rob being a rat,” Smith said. “I don’t respect informants and I don’t represent them. More than that, the sheriff’s department had arrested him and he had been charged by the district attorney with assault with great bodily injury. They weren’t going to dismiss that. They were planning on going for it. If he was an informant, he would not have been arrested at all. They would have found some way to not charge him.”
Smith said, “I knew Rob his entire life, from the time he was born. I didn’t see this one coming. He was known to be violent. There’s no hiding that. Last year, he got busy with some guy who tried to steal his motorcycle. In the motorcycle world, if you steal someone’s bike, that can be a death sentence. That’s what comes with that. In this case, the guy got his ass kicked. But to say Rob was an informant, all the signs are contrary to that. I would never believe it.”
Meanwhile, there has long been a plethora of individuals, victims of Shuey’s violence or criminal activity, who might have held a deadly grudge against him. The Sentinel this week was regaled with the tale of a man who had recently been jailed for a short period of time on a relatively minor crime and then died after his release from the county jail. During his brief incarceration, the Sentinel was told, the man had lamented to his fellow inmates how Shuey had beaten his son, nearly to death, and was not being held to account for it. Furthermore, Shuey’s alleged involvement with Garcia, the methamphetamine-turned-fentanyl-dealer whose product is widely believed to have resulted in a wave of overdose deaths in the San Bernardino Mountains communities recently, could have induced some bereaved entity to make sure that Shuey paid the ultimate price for the misery he had doled out.
Four-and-one-half years after the voters in California passed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the attitudes of most of San Bernardino County’s political leadership has not caught up with the spirit the outcome of that vote embodied.
For more than a century, marijuana being used for its intoxicative effect was illegal in the Golden State, and tens of thousands of people had gone to prison for growing it, possessing it, smoking it or trafficking in it during that time. In response to marijuana’s legalization with the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, San Bernardino County’s governmental structure and that of its two incorporated towns and and eighteen of its twenty incorporated cities resisted going along with the new trend. Only five cities made any shift, with San Bernardino, Adelanto and Needles consenting to allow the plant to be commercially grown and altered into edible and otherwise applicable palliatives and salves, distributed and sold at both the retail and wholesale levels. Barstow has made preparations to permit sales. Hesperia has allowed businesses distributing and delivering the product to exist within its confines.
The continuing prohibition of marijuana and its commercialization elsewhere in San Bernardino has resulted in those looking to profit by cultivating and selling it, either under or outside of the regulatory schemes governments are permitted to engage in under Proposition 64, to try their hand at becoming marijuana cultivators or entrepreneurs. Recognizing that there is a tremendous appetite for the drug and that the collective resolve of San Bernardino County officials together with officials in the towns of Apple Valley and Yucca Valley and the cities of Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Rialto, Colton, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Highland, Redlands, Yuciapa, Big Bear, Twentynine Palms and Victorville to prevent its production and restrict its availability is artificially boosting its price, daring indivduals have undertaken to cultivate it in small medium and large and gargantuan quantities in many places where they believe they can do so undetected. As a consequence, unlicensed marijuana farms over the last several years have flourished in the more remote areas of the county, in particular the vast reaches of San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert.
Put upon by these operations, residents in those areas have made objections to them. Beginning earlier this year, the sheriff’s department has stepped up its enforcement and eradication efforts against those enterprises.
While the department has succeeded in raiding dozens of operations and uprooting literally tens of thousands plants, the sheriff’s department’s energetic efforts in this regard have resulted in few substantive criminal prosecutions. This has created some degree of controversy.
Sheriff John McMahon came before the Apple Valley Town Council at its meeting on Tuesday this week to offer what he said was an “update” of his department’s actions, and explain the legal limitations and challenges his department faces in carrying out its efforts.
“We’ve heard from residents primarily in the more rural and unincorporated areas that are feeling the impact of these illegal marijuana grows,” McMahon said. “You’re fortunate in the town, and I know you have a great ordinance in place to penalize financially those that are growing illegally. Code enforcement and our folks here work very closely with one another and your primary issue here is indoor grows. [There are] very few outdoor grows in the Town of Apple Valley, and you’re really aggressive in making sure that you send a message that they’re not allowed. What’s happened in the unincorporated area and the more rural areas of the county is we saw a number of grows start poppin’ up here and there, and I will tell you, they grew faster than we could keep up with. We have one marijuana enforcement team in the county made up of five personnel. There’s just simply no way they can keep up with it, although last year, we did a special operation called Operation Weedwhacker with a bunch of folks from other parts of the county that came together, and they did serve 400 search warrants on illegal marijuana cultivation operations in the unincorporated county area, and we were able to take those grows down.”
McMahon said, “We’re at a point now where there’s about 860 grows that we’re aware of and ready to go after that were illegally being operated, and there’s probably at least another 200 if not more that we just haven’t got to yet and haven’t identified, don’t have coordinates for or addresses for. So, it’s over a 1,000, I guarantee you, throughout the county. It starts in Twentynine Palms and goes completely across the desert through Johnson Valley, Lucerne Valley, through the north part of the desert here, all the way over to Phelan, Pinon Hills and just keeps rollin’ over right into L.A. County. You may have seen some news coverage. LA. County’s got the same problem that we do, and they’re doing a big operation, and we’re assisting them, and ultimately they’re going to assist us here in the next month or so with some other grows that we have here in our part of the county.”
McMahon said his department is scrambling to address the issue but is overwhelmed with the enormity of the cultivation activity that is ongoing.
“The primary reason for these illegal grows is just simply the money and the lack of consequences,” he said. “So, oftentimes what’s happening is these people are buying a plot of land, which oftentimes is relatively cheap out in the middle of nowhere, and you can describe it as in the middle of nowhere. I mean, you fly it with a helicopter and you’ll see lights and a grow way out where you would think there’d never be anything. They’re sinking a well, generally, if there’s water available. They’re getting a permit to sink a well. They’re hiring a well-driller. I was in Newberry Springs not long ago, and a well-driller actually got up and addressed the crowd, told us exactly what he’s doing, and he’s sinking wells. He’s getting permits just like everybody else. And those folks that buy that piece of property, sink a well legally, they’re entitled to whatever the acre-feet are deeded to that piece of property, and in some cases in Newberry Springs, it’s ten acre-feet a year. So, they have that right to use that water. And then they set up the hoop houses, and they start growin’ marijuana, and they turn it in about three or four months, and they start another crop. Under Prop 64, not a lot of people caught it, but almost at that last page of that proposition on the ballot was converting, growing, commercially growing or cultivation of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. So, we catch somebody at one of those grows, they get prosecuted for a misdemeanor and a $500 fine. All we can do is take down the plants and haul those away, because that’s the criminal activity. The hoop house, all the other things we see there are not criminal in nature and have to be followed up by code enforcement. And to be quite honest, the county has limited resources as it relates to code enforcement.”
Current laws as defined under Proposition 64 has restricted government’s ability to deal with the expansion of marijuana production, McMahon said, opining that there is a need for draconian legislation.
“So, we’re tryin’ to work with the county to come up with an ordinance that will help give us the authority and certainly the deterrent to prevent some of this,” the sheriff said. “It’s going to have to be similar to what you guys have where you fine people. Needles has the same thing. The county’s going to have to develop an ordinance, and they’re workin’ on it with all the department heads, to fine these guys that are growin’, and whether it be a thousand dollars a plant, or $5,000 a plant, or $10,000 is up for the county to decide. But the misdemeanor and $500 fine is not going to deter these guys. It’s just not going to do it. They’re going to continue to grow. When we take it down, they either move to another location, or they wait for a month or two, replant and they regrow on the same site. And so, it’s just tough to keep up with the increase. There’s so much money to be made. So, the only way we’re going to deal with it is an ordinance that fines them, and then if they don’t pay, then they lien the property and, you know the rest of the story. So, I think that will be effective.”
McMahon said a move in that direction is already being made.
“Today, [Third District] Supervisor [Dawn] Rowe at the board of supervisors [meeting], introduced a resolution to send to Sacramento to change it from a misdemeanor to a felony again,” McMahon said. “Apparently that can be done in the legislature with a two-thirds vote, even though it was voted on by the people. So, that’s what they were talkin’ about this morning at the board of supervisors. Assemblymember Thurston Smith as well as Tom Lackey both came out, rode in the helicopter with our folks and videoed the grows in the desert, and I think they were just as amazed as anybody as to the number and the size. They took that video back to Sacramento, and I think they’re going to use that to try to help get it reversed, and change it back to a felony. With any luck at all that will happen. It may slow down some of it, as well.”
With or without a new law, McMahon said, his department is going to maintain its current efforts, and will indeed intensify them, perhaps as much as five-fold.
“But in the meantime, today at the board of supervisors meeting, they authorized additional funding for us,” he said. “Historically, they’ve provided a million dollars in crime suppression money for us to use to address gang-related, violent crime, whatever it might be. Today they authorized $4 million, so we’re going to use it for that traditional criminal activity with gangs and violent crime and that type of thing, but also use it to ramp up our marijuana enforcement. We’re going to go from one five-member team to five teams. We’ll spread throughout the entire county, and just do more of the search warrants, and try to keep up with this ever-increasing illegal cultivation.”
McMahon said, “As you are probably aware, there’s only two places in our county that cultivation of marijuana is legal, other than [growing six plants for] personal use, and that’s Needles and Adelanto.”
McMahon omitted mention of the City of San Bernardino, which has transitioned to allowing all order of marijuana and cannabis-related operations to function within its jurisdiction.
“Adelanto has the same issue in the surrounding area and a little bit inside the city limits, illegal grows as well,” McMahon said. “That’s in direct conflict and competition with the legal growers that are paying taxes and paying fees to the city to operate. It is obviously impacting their business, as well. Needles sees the same thing. Needles has an ordinance where they fine, I believe it is $10,000 a plant, if it’s an illegal cultivation operation. That seems to be effective in Needles and seems to be working. So, with any luck at all we can do something like that at the county level, also. So, just to remind everybody, cultivation or growing of marijuana for personal use is legal under Prop 64. You can have six plants for personal use. You can have one ounce of finished product for personal use. The grows that we’re seeing in the rural areas and unincorporated areas where there’s hoop houses and 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 plants: absolutely illegal. Not authorized by the county, and its illegal if it’s not authorized by the county. It’s still the misdemeanor section. That’s the challenge for us. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting for the ordinance at the county and while we’re waiting to see if they change it from a misdemeanor to a felony as it relates to the prosecution piece, we will continue to do everything we can to take these down. It’s a serious quality of life issue. There’s water issues. [There are] those that are stealing water – which is happening – [and] those that are buying water. [In] Lucerne Valley, when I was there at a couple of meetings, there [were] people at the meeting who were selling water to the growers. I don’t believe that’s illegal. I’m not sure who enforces the water rules, but I don’t think that’s illegal. They can sell water from their well if they want to. So, they’re doin’ it, which is continuing to feed the need of the growers. So, that may be a challenge, maybe something they can deal with in that regard, and ultimately work closely with the DA’s office. And there’s some environmental crimes I think the DA’s office is looking into. Obviously, they’re using pesticides and they’re using fertilizer, which potentially could be percolating into the groundwater. I don’t know much about that, but they’re working with the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to see if there’s something they can do in that regard.”
McMahon said, “We’re trying everything we can, but we’ll keep the pressure on. We’ll continue to take these grows down. We have the additional personnel that will be coming July 1. We’ll keep the pressure on and do what we can to try to control this.”
McMahon indicated there were further criminal issues that sprang from the illicit marijuana cultivation enterprises.
“In Newberry Springs, we’ve had two incidents where the guys that are at the grows are armed,” McMahon said. “They’re protecting the grows. They’re carrying rifles and they are confronting people on the road, on the dirt road, trying to figure out who they are and, additionally, they fired at our folks twice. One case, a round went through the windshield of one of our patrol cars. We traced it back and it was an armed guy at one of the illegal grows. Now, I don’t believe he was shooting at the cop car because he knew it was a cop car, a deputy. I think he was worried more about being robbed. They’re really not that afraid of us, because they know that the penalty and prosecution is so small. They’re worried about some bandits coming and stealing from them. So, that’s why they have armed guards there. So, that’s part of the issue.”
Furthermore, McMahon said, the cultivation operations involve “Trash, dust, the water trucks goin’ back and forth. Now, when we did our operation in Lucerne Valley, we partnered up with the CHP. They brought their commercial enforcement guys out. They pulled over all of those trucks haulin’ water, most of which were overweight, unlicensed. The drivers certainly wasn’t licensed to be carrying the weight they were carrying. So, they dealt with that on that side of it as a commercial enforcement officer and we dealt with the grows itself, taking ‘em down. Labor intensive, but it’s important. With any luck at all, we’ll get some of those changes that I spoke about. Maybe with that additional prosecution and penalties for those guys that are growin’, we can slow this down. It’s nearly every community in the rural area of the county, and we’re not the only county that’s having the same problem. If you read the paper, you can see it’s happening in Siskiyou County. It’s happening in Kern County. It’s happening in Fresno County. Anywhere where there’s a large amount of open space where they can set up a growing operation, they’re doing it. It’s simply a lot of money being made.”
Though the residents of Manhattan across the continent or those living in Chicago on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan would laugh at the thought that the Inland Empire is home to high rise buildings, and dismiss most of the structures in this region as falling below the standard for mid-rises, by local standards there are a smattering of tall buildings scattered about 20,105-square mile San Bernardino County.
The county seat, San Bernardino, accounts for the most tall buildings in the county and claims the title of having the greatest number of overall stories, as well, along with four of the six tallest structures, although not the actual tallest building. Loma Linda, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario and Victorville have a few tall buildings, and in Upland, where in recent years some three story residential units have sprung up, a seven-story building is to grace the skyline near the 210 Freeway in the not-too-distant future.
In recent weeks and days there have been developments with regard to existing and proposed high rises that merit public attention.
In April, the Redlands Planning Commission made a recommendation that Village Partners Ventures LLC be allowed to transform the largely vacant 11.15-acre Redlands Mall, which formerly hosted the Harris’ department store, into a melange of mixed-uses including residential, retail, office professional quarters, restaurants, recreational facilities and a six-story parking structure around a pedestrian plaza and swimming pool, with multi-story residential buildings of three, four and five vertical levels.
In September, the grassroots group Friends of Redlands, working in conjunction with Redlands for Responsible Growth Management, began gathering signatures to force a vote on what the allowable height limit on Redlands buildings is to be. The proposed Friends of Redlands’ initiative calls for disallowing buildings taller than two stories next to single-story homes without the consent of the owner of the single-story home, limiting the height of buildings downtown, which involves the University of Redlands Transit Villages Area, to no more than 50 feet, and the permitting of buildings to a height of no more than 62 feet – tantamount to four stories – in the New York Street/ESRI Transit Village Area. The initiative would further require that the city council unanimously approve making any density intensifications on projects, and it would layer greater parking provision requirements on developers seeking project approvals. To qualify the initiative for the ballot in 2022, the petitioners needed ten percent of Redlands’ 42,000 voters to affix their signatures to the ballot application. To force the election to be held this year, within 109 days of the requisite number of signatures being verified, Friends of Upland needs 15 percent of the city’s voters – 6,409 – to sign the petition.
On Monday, June 7, 2021, representatives with Friends of Redlands and Redlands for Responsible Growth Management, including 95-year-old former Redlands Mayor Bill Cunningham, wheeled into Redlands City Hall three huge boxes containing petitions calling for a special election to stop tall and dense development to which 7,715 signatures were affixed. Those petitions were turned over to City Clerk Jeanne Donaldson.
One of the activists opposing development in Redlands, John Berry, told the Sentinel, “stopping hi-rise development is a huge — and visceral! — issue throughout Southern California. Since we started collecting signatures in September, we have heard from many residents from many SoCal cities who have expressed their frustrations and battles with developers and city councils ruining their cities. Only because of Redlands’ Bill Cunningham fighting these battles since 1978 did Redlands ever become the city we love. Without him, Redlands would have become just another SoCal condo canyon city. Many people who’ve signed told us they moved to Redlands for its charm and small-town feel.”
Donaldson is to count and verify the signatures to determine if the referendum on high rises will take place this year or next year.
Meanwhile, the City of Redlands, which for years has been seeking an economical way to deal with the overcrowded quarters in its police and fire departments, has arranged to purchase, for $500,000, an option on the Redlands Federal Bank Building built in 1981.
Reportedly, the option will lock in the city’s opportunity to purchase the tallest building currently in Redlands, located at 300 East State Street downtown, for $16 million. The half million dollars paid to secure the option will go toward the purchase if the acquisition is made before the option’s expiration. The building is large enough to house both the fire department administration and all of the police department, as well as parts or all of some other city departments.
In nearby Loma Linda, officials with the Loma Linda University Medical Center are striving toward securing the certificate of occupancy for the six additional stories that have been constructed on the existing medical center building, originally built with 11 floors in 1967. The current project has been ongoing since 2016. It is anticipated patients will be accepted into the new hospital quarters by September 2021, if all issues with regard to occupancy permits are resolved in a timely manner.
Existing facilities housed in the current medical center structure’s round towers will be moved into the six new floors. This means an expansive new operating room suite and a significant increase in the number of intensive-care beds. Brand new and state-of-the-art cardiovascular labs, including ones providing all needed equipment and facilities for heart surgeries, will be housed in the expansion area, along with other surgical, perioperative and pre-operative suites.
Paralleling the expansion of the project is an upgrading of the hospital’s seismic system, carried out by Turner Construction Company of New York City. The building foundation is now set upon 126 base isolators, huge springs which will allow the building to sway in what is predicated to be a 10.4 Richter Scale earthquake without buckling, collapsing or sustaining structural damage that would compromise the building’s integrity. The most intensive earthquake on record was one in Chile in 1960 that reached 9.4 on the Richter Scale.
At 17 total stories, of which 16 are above ground to a height of 267 feet, the Loma Linda University Medical Center building is now the tallest hospital in earthquake-prone California, and San Bernardino County’s tallest building.
In the City of San Bernardino, six-story City Hall remains vacant after nearly five years. It is unclear whether city officials there will seek to reclaim it by engaging in a seismic hardening of the facility or raze it.
In the early 1970s, San Bernardino officials committed to building a new City Hall in Downtown San Bernardino, on property reclaimed from a longstanding historic section of the city, where nearly a score of buildings had been demolished to undertake an urban renewal effort that was to include government-sponsored capital improvements entailing a new civic center.
César Pelli, a highly accomplished Argentine American architect who emigrated to the United States in 1952, married Diana Balmori, a landscape and urban designer, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1964, was commissioned to design the edifice. Pelli was one of the world’s leading architects, particular with regard to designing majestic buildings as well as some of the world’s tallest structures, including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which were for a time the world’s highest buildings, as well as the World Financial Center complex in downtown Manhattan, Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the Sao Paulo Corporate Towers, Xuzhou Central Plaza in Xuzhou, the Unicredit Building in Milan, and scores of others around the world.
In the early morning of February 9, 1971, the San Fernando Earthquake, also known as the Sylmar Earthquake, occurred in the west foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The unanticipated thrust earthquake had a moment magnitude of 6.5 or 6.7 on the Richter Scale. The quake did damage to the San Fernando Valley and other densely populated areas north of central Los Angeles, causing several buildings to collapse. This demonstrated the inadequacy of the building standards that had been put into place in California following the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933. California lawmakers acted quickly to develop legislation related to seismic safety, tightening construction standards.
Already at that point, architects and engineers had introduced the concept of incorporating rollers into the foundation of high rise buildings, which would allow the foundation to roll or shift with a seismic disturbance. Two decades later, rollers would be replaced by massive vertical springs in the foundations of large buildings. But San Bernardino City Hall had neither of those features. What is more, the contractor on the San Bernardino City Hall project would utilize pillars composed primarily of concrete, nearly a dozen of them, to support the building.
Rather than hold off on the construction of the building until the State of California formulated new standards based on data available from the Symar quake, San Bernardino city officials, rather irresponsibly, rushed to complete the city hall project before those standards were mandated by law.
Some 43 years after the completion of the project, then San Bernardino City Manager Mark Scott was informed that it is anticipated that a 7.0 magnitude or greater earthquake is likely to occur in Southern California within the foreseeable future. If such an event were to emanate from a point proximate to San Bernardino, Scott was told, the concrete pillars supporting the six-story City Hall structure would would be likely to powderize, and the building would collapse. Out of what he said was an abundance of caution, Scott ordered the building to be cleared of city operations. It has remained vacant ever since.
In Upland, developer Jeff Burum is working toward the completion of a seven-story residential structure. That project is not likely to be completed prior to 2025.