By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the July 23 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
The California Attorney General’s Office today took civil action against the City of Fontana in an effort to stem the oversaturation of the 217,237 population community with warehouses.
Targeted in the lawsuit filed by California Attorney General is the latest warehouse to be approved in the 43.97-square mile city.
On April 20, 2021, the Fontana City Council entrusted to that city’s planning commission land use authority to consider a proposal by Michael Weber and his Irvine-based company, Duke Realty, to consolidate seven parcels into a single parcel of approximately 8.61 acres at the southwest corner of Slover Avenue and Oleander Avenue upon which a proposed 205,949-square foot warehouse was to be built. The warehouse is intended to feature 22 truck docks, 40 truck parking spaces, and 95 standard parking spaces.
The planning commission approved that project, signing off on the construction of the warehouse, its design review and its tentative parcel map, whereupon Elizabeth Sena, a Fontana resident, appealed that project approval to the Fontana City Council.
The city council heard that appeal on June 22.
Fontana’s political leadership has embraced warehouse development as a means of economic development, to the point that Fontana’s mayor since 2010, Acquanetta Warren, is known by the sobriquet “Warehouse Warren.”
On June 22, Warren and her three allies on the council, John Roberts, Phil Cothran, Jr. and Peter Garcia, were able to sidestep the opposition that Sena raised, and the voices of protest that joined with hers, consisting of Carlos Tinoc, Tina Tinoc, Sunny Renteria, Julian Rambila, Julia Avina, Gabriela Mendez, Brian Culdy, Rosa Culdy, Yolanda Rivera, Jasmine Cunningham, Veronica Perez, Eddie Lopez, Ben Vasquez, Paul Salazar, Debrah Seldon, Cynthia Gonzalez, Alejandra Collazo, Andrew Noriega, Annelle Torres, Rebecca Gonzalez and Jose Valdez.
The council, in a 4-to-1 vote, with Warren, Roberts, Cothran and Garcia prevailing and Councilman Jesse Sandoval dissenting, denied the appeal, upholding the planning commission’s decision to let Weber/Duke Realty proceed with the project.
In filing his lawsuit today against the City of Fontana, California Attorney General Rob Bonta challenged the approval of the Slover and Oleander warehouse project, noting the project site shares a border with a public high school and that it is located in one of the most polluted areas in the state.
“Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the City of Fontana is required to implement all feasible mitigation measures to reduce harmful air pollution and other significant environmental impacts of the Slover and Oleander Warehouse project,” Bonta said.
In the lawsuit, Bonta argues that the city’s limited environmental review of the project and its failure to appropriately analyze, disclose, and mitigate the project’s environmental impacts violates the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Plain and simple: Everyone has the right to breathe clean air where they live and where they work,” Bonta said. “As attorney general, I have a responsibility to enforce the state’s environmental laws, and as the people’s attorney, I am committed to standing up for communities who live at the intersection of poverty and pollution. Fontana residents shouldn’t have to choose between economic development and clean air. They deserve both. Unfortunately, the City of Fontana cut corners when it approved the Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project. We’re going to court today to compel the city to go back and take a hard look at the environmental impacts of this project – and do all it can to mitigate the potential harms to local residents and workers – before moving forward.”
Bonta continued, “The Slover and Oleander Warehouse Project will be constructed in a low-income south Fontana neighborhood that suffers from some of the highest pollution levels in all of California. Over 20 warehouses have already been built within a mile of the project site, in an area that encompasses two public high schools and serves as home to hundreds of Californians. Collectively, these warehouses generate thousands of daily heavy-duty diesel truck trips. As a result, local residents and workers suffer from some of the highest exposures statewide to fine particulate matter, which are inhalable microscopic particles that travel deep into human lungs and are linked to increased risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and asthma attacks. They are also heavily exposed to ozone and toxic chemicals that can cause a wide array of other concerning health problems.”
The warehouse will worsen conditions in the area, Bonta said, saying it “is expected to generate approximately 114 daily truck trips and 272 daily passenger car trips during the project’s round-the-clock operations. In addition, one quarter of the warehouse space is equipped for cold storage, a use that attracts highly-polluting trucks with auxiliary diesel engines needed for refrigeration. Despite this, the City of Fontana concludes that the project will not have significant environmental impacts and omits mitigation measures such as exceeding green building efficiency standards or using low-emission construction equipment that would reduce the pollution burden to local residents and create additional jobs and improve on-site worker safety.”
In the lawsuit, Bonta maintains the City of Fontana violated the California Environmental Quality Act in its approval of the Slover and Oleander warehouse project by failing to prepare an environmental impact report despite substantial evidence that the project will have significant environmental impacts, and that the city did not disclose the existence of dozens of other industrial warehouses in the area. The city further did not disclose, Bonta asserts, that the city has approved and is planning additional warehouse developments within blocks of the project and it did not account for those nearby warehouses in its cumulative air quality analysis.
In approving the project the city did not ensure that all significant environmental impacts of the project will be mitigated, Bonta claims.
Mayor Warren said that in approving the warehouse project in question, “I think we have taken every effort legally to keep people safe. This project met all the necessary environmental standards. It is going to create jobs. These environmentalists need to get out of the way and quit standing in the way of economic development.”
A specially-called criminal grand jury looking into the actions of a couple who threw a so-called gender-reveal party last September at which a pyrotechnic device touched off a fire that raged out of control and thereafter killed a firefighter and scorched 22,680 acres has indicted the pair on a total of 30 charges.
In the indictment unsealed on Tuesday, July 20, Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez are charged with a single count of involuntary manslaughter, three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire resulting in great bodily injury, four felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures and 22 misdemeanor counts of Penal Code Section 452, recklessly causing a fire to private property.
What became known as the El Dorado Fire was sparked September 5, 2020 at approximately 10:23 a.m. when the Jiminezes used a pyrotechnic device, referred to as a “smoke cannon” intended to release either blue or pink smoke to reveal the gender of a baby Angelina Jimenez was carrying, lit dry grass beneath it. The couple had invited a number of friends and extended family members to El Dorado Park in Yucaipa to the event.
A surveillance video from a camera at the park depicts several people, a number of them children, walking onto the grass at the edge of the park. An adult male is seen in the video lighting the device. Shortly thereafter, the dry grass and vegetation near the device is seen to ignite, and the video shows individuals scurrying in a futile effort at dousing the flames with water from water bottles. At the time the fire initiated, the temperature in Yucaipa had already reached 90 degrees, and would attain 110 later that afternoon.
The fire spread from the park to the north onto Yucaipa Ridge that separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucaipa. After initially burning northward early on September 5, the fire circled back as it was pushed by inconsistently-directed winds, first pushing east, then northward, taking at one point a substantial westwardly shift on the evening of Saturday, September 5, and on Sunday, September 6 moving south. The fire thus spread in four different directions.
Over 23 days, the fire consumed 22,680 acres in the Oak Glen/Yucaipa Ridge area and within the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest. Firefighting efforts, directed from from a command post established at Yucaipa Regional Park and involving 1,351 personnel, did manage to prevent the fire from moving into populated areas. As such, the conflagration raged into the area’s rustic canyons and, ultimately, the heavily wooded National Forest. Twenty mostly isolated structures, five of them homes, were burnt to the ground. Another four residences were significantly damaged.
On the twelfth day of the effort to control the fire, September 17, Charles Morton, a specialized “hot shot” fire suppression team commander with 14 years experience as a firefighter, was killed.
Hot shot crews are highly mobile and specially-skilled hand crews intended to be flexible with the migration of a fire, and are trained, conditioned, equipped and qualified to be utilized in combating wildland fires. Hotshots are often employed in using shovels and other tools in seeking to reroute the direction of a fire’s progression, often on very difficult terrain at locations remote from the main body of firefighters in a given area. The crews function without water or hoses. At sometime around 10 p.m. in the evening of September 17, while he was with others “engaged in fire suppression operations,” a windshift resulted in flames overrunning Morton.
Another 13 firefighters were injured throughout the El Dorado Fire ordeal.
The fire, which required 60 miles of fire lines to suppress and ranged from a minimum elevation of 3,030 feet to a maximum of 10,640 feet, forced the evacuations of Oak Glen, north Yucaipa, Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls, and Angelus Oaks.
The firefighting effort was manpower intensive and extremely costly. The 1,351 firefighters involved included those functioning under two interagency incident management teams rotated into place throughout the operation, those being California Interagency Management Team 11, supervised by Commander Chris Fogle, and California Interagency Management Team 13, led by Incident Commander Mike Wakoski. There were 17 hand crews working the fire lines, 177 fire engines, 20 water tenders, 17 bulldozers, and 10 helicopters. Numerous fixed-wing tankers were brought to bear in the effort, including a DC-10, which engaged in aerial fire-retardant drops. Three Canadian Fire Bosses and a single-engine air tanker water scooper, operating from a base at Big Bear Airport & Lake, were also used for the first time in Southern California in the effort against the El Dorado conflagration.
The fire was not considered maintained until September 29.
The indictments of Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez were handed down after the grand jury heard from 34 witnesses during four days of testimony and reviewed 434 exhibits.
On July 20, both Refugio Jimenez or Angelina Jimenez, who were not in custody, were arraigned in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Colin Bilash. Both entered not guilty pleas. They are being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Lisa Crane and Jill Gregory.
Refugio Jimenez is being represented by Michael Scafiddi.
Angelina Jimenez is being represented by Steven Mitchell.
Both defendants agreed to extend their preliminary hearing date to November 16.
By Mark Gutglueck
Within the last year there has been a substantial shift in the political center of gravity in Ontario, which over the last three decades has been one of the most stable of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities in terms of governance.
Time will tell if Mayor Paul Leon’s repositioning to align himself with his longstanding rival on the council, Alan Wapner, and the two council members who have composed Wapner’s ruling coalition for more than a decade will result in a radical rocking of the keel of the ship of state in the 193,594-population city.
Whichever way things play out, the change is a remarkable one, perhaps heralding what will be, next year, the first serious challenge to the mayor and the glacially evolving status quo in the city in more than a decade-and-a-half.
A key factor in Ontario’s stability has been the fashion in which its ruling elite has endeavored to make certain governance in the city is administered in as low of a profile as possible. Despite sometimes vicious differences among the city council’s members on other points, they have been in perfect consonance with one another on keeping their squabbles out of the public eye, away from the headlines and out of the evening news broadcast from Los Angeles.
For the most part, that strategy has worked for Ontario’s city leaders. With the latest political shift and the maneuvering by the now-lone isolated member of the council, Ruben Valencia, who is casting about for the leverage he needs to assert himself as an equal among his colleagues and prevent himself from being consumed by political irrelevancy, Ontario’s ethos of governmental secrecy is about be subject to an exposition that is likely to betray activity that will embarrassingly illustrate what those officials have so ruthlessly been attempting to hide.
The central element in this sordid chapter is a nearly-eight-year-old event that the council, through the efforts of one of its previous members who has since become county district attorney, went to elaborate means nearly seven years ago to hide. The scandal of secrecy deepened with action by that branch of the city staff dedicated to preserving city records destroying last year the documentation relating to the events and actions in question.
Ontario is a city of paradox. As a municipality, it is hands down the wealthiest of San Bernardino County’s 22 cities and two incorporated towns in terms of its governmental funding. It boasts nearly two-thirds of a billion dollars running through all of its various municipal funds, which is more than two thirds that of the San Bernardino County municipality in second place, Rancho Cucamonga. It hosts the Ontario International Airport, the largest aerodrome in the county, as well as Ontario Mills, one of the largest shopping venues in the Inland Empire. And though the city has some upscale and very nice neighborhoods new and old in different parts of the 50-square mile city, it contains districts that rival those of the Third World in terms of squalor and substandard housing, whole neighborhoods where upwards of twenty and as many as thirty people live in two-, three- and four-bedroom homes with one or two toilets originally designed to house no more than a single family of four to eight. Trash, refuse and debris is often dumped on streets, parkways or yards in those districts where industrial and residential properties are mixed side by side, and the eyesore of that openly exposed rubbish remains unredressed for months or years. Though they have the financial means to do so, city officials do not have the will to deal effectively with those torn-down neighborhoods to abate that blight.
There is another discrepancy in Ontario, that which exists between the party affiliation of the city’s voters in general and its elected representatives on the city council. Of Ontario’s 85,825 registered voters, nearly half, 41,735 or 48.6 percent are Democrats. Slightly more than one fifth of the city’s voters, 19,085 or 22.2 percent, are Republicans. Republicans are outnumbered, slightly, by those 19,182 or 22.4 percent of registered voters in Ontario who express no party preference. The remaining 7 percent of the city’s voters are affiliated with the Libertarian, Peace & Freedom, American Independent, Green or other more obscure parties. Despite the Democrats’ dominance of Ontario in terms of voter registration, they have no representation on the city council. All five of the council members at present are identified, in one manner or another, as Republicans or supporters of the Republican Party.
Ontario officials, in particular their elected ones, want as little public scrutiny of their function and activity as possible. A major factor in the degree to which citizens can pay attention to what is going on locally and at City Hall is the presence of a newspaper. Ontario, from the time of its founding in 1882 until late in the 20th Century was the center of political, social and mercantile existence on the west side of San Bernardino County. It was also the home of the Daily Report, one of San Bernardino County’s leading newspapers. In 1990, the Ontario Daily Report merged with the Pomona Progress Bulletin to become the Daily Bulletin. Nearly a generation ago, the Daily Bulletin pulled up stakes and moved out of Ontario. That has left Ontario, along with adjoining Upland and Montclair, as the three cities in San Bernardino County currently without a hometown newspaper. Indeed, other much smaller cities and towns in San Bernardino County such as Needles, Big Bear, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley have newspapers which chronicle on a constant basis the actions of those communities’ governments and the comings and goings of its citizens and leaders. This has given Ontario’s politicians, if not an entirely free ride, the advantage of there being far less attention paid to their comportment than would be the case otherwise.
Consequently, for nearly two decades the residents of Ontario have been deprived of a window on the dissension within the ranks of the Ontario City Council.
That dissension, which at certain points has boiled over into outright hostility, represents another paradox, as there has been, despite the sharp division of philosophy and personality on the council, very little changeover in the panel’s membership, relatively, in comparison to other San Bernardino County cities, going back a generation. Since the year 2000, a total of eleven individuals have served on the Ontario City Council, including in the post of mayor. Among the county’s 21 five-member city or town councils, only neighboring Montclair has had fewer than eleven members on its city council since 2000. In all others cities and towns in San Bernardino County, council members moved onto and then off of the city or town council with greater, and in some cases far greater, frequency than in Ontario. As a general rule, the more intense the dissension on a city council and the more spirited the debate, the greater the degree of changeover on the panel. Notably, Ontario might have had fewer than eleven council members in the past 21 years and could have displayed even more political stability had it not been for one of those council members, Jerry Dubois, dying in office, and another, Mayor Gary Ovitt, being elected to a higher political position.
For that reason, the vituperation between Ontario’s council members and their ability to keep it under wraps and outside the scrutiny of a significant portion of the public is all the more remarkable.
Since shortly after the turn of the Third Millennium, Ontario has had an unbroken tradition of having at least one vocal and hard-hitting dissident within its ranks. In 2000 Debbie Acker was elected to the council. Initially, while acclimating herself, Acker voted, for the most part, along with her four colleagues, Ovitt as mayor and councilmen Paul Leon, Alan Wapner and Jerry Dubois. That honeymoon did not last long, and in time Acker began to question the motives for some city actions and council votes, and she grew skeptical about the relationships between some or all of her colleagues and certain business interests with applications for projects in the city or for contracts at City Hall. Her input and protests at first were duly noted. Still, her single vote against the other four with regard to items she felt strongly enough to take a stand on did not provide the requisite political muscle to make a difference in the outcome of those votes. In 2002, in the midst of her first term on the city council, Acker unsuccessfully challenged Ovitt for mayor. As a councilwoman, she was rarely able to find a second from her colleagues on any motions for action or initiatives she proposed. The council consistently voted as a block against her on any items brought before the council wherein she questioned staff recommendations. She grew steadily more strident in reaction, which in turn provoked her council colleagues. The contretemps escalated to the point that what was going on between Acker, on one side, and Ovitt, Leon, Wapner and Dubois on the other had become the most celebrated political struggle in San Bernardino County. At one point, the council voted to censure her. In 2004, she elected not to seek reelection.
In the 2004 city council election, Leon was reelected to the council and a newcomer, Jason Anderson, was elected to come in and replace Acker. Also in the November 2004 election, Ovitt had captured the position of Fourth District San Bernardino County supervisor, which necessitated that he surrender the mayor’s gavel to move into that post. A special election for mayor was held in June 2005, in which Leon emerged victorious over former City Councilman/former City Attorney Sam Crowe. Planning Commissioner Sheila Mautz was appointed to fill the gap on the council created by Leon’s move into the mayoral position. In relatively short order, Leon, Anderson and Mautz coalesced into a ruling coalition on the council, one that was not too heavily pronounced, but evident nonetheless. In 2006, Dubois succumbed to a rare genetic disorder.
In November 2006, Leon was reelected mayor, Wapner was reelected to the council and Jim Bowman, a former city councilman as well as a former Ontario fire chief, successfully vied for election, in essence replacing Dubois on the council.
Shortly thereafter, the political lines on the council hardened. Wapner, a former Ontario Police Department detective who acceded to the position of sergeant before taking a disability retirement at the age of 40, formed a natural alliance with Bowman. Nevertheless, they were politically outgunned on the council at that point by Leon, Anderson and Mautz. Wapner and Leon had begun on the Ontario City Council in 1998, with Wapner having captured his council seat through that year’s election, and Leon having been appointed to replace Ovitt on the council following his election that year as mayor. Wapner coveted the mayoral position. He believed his having been originally brought onto the council as a consequence of the city’s residents having chosen to place him thereon with their votes qualified him for the position of mayor whereas Leon’s appointment to the council without having earned his victory through a tooth-and-nail battle at the polls rendered his having obtained the honorific of mayor undeserved. Moreover, Wapner outright believed his vision for Ontario was superior to that of Leon’s. Nevertheless, with 67 percent of Ontario’s population being Latino at that time, Wapner recognized that in a head-to-head contest with Leon for that office, he was at a disadvantage because the city’s demographics heavily favored the incumbent.
All was not doom and gloom for Wapner, however. Bowman, his ally, was a formidable political figure in his own right. In addition to having been Ontario’s fire chief, he had been elected to the Ontario City Council in 1986 to a two-year term. Bowman left the council for two years between 1988 and 1990 but was elected in 1990 and reelected in 1994, and then did not seek reelection in 1998 so he could become Ontario Fire Chief. Serving as fire chief until 2005, Bowman retired, but shortly thereafter took on a temporary assignment as Upland’s fire chief. Fully retired when he successfully sought election in 2006, he was thereafter able to devout time and energy to politics.
In 2008, both Mautz and Anderson were up for election. Debra Dorst-Porada, a registered nurse who had vied for the city council unsuccessfully in 1998 and 2004, entered the race. Bowman lent her support and direction, and persuaded Wapner to do the same. In November of that year Mautz was elected but Anderson was defeated, losing to Dorst-Porada.
Virtually overnight, Leon was no longer in control of the council or the city. Wapner, with the support of Bowman, who had the complete loyalty of Dorst-Porada, assumed the cat bird seat.
All members of the council had drawn a lesson from the Acker chapter of the city’s history. Subjecting the council to sustained negative publicity, both Leon and Wapner, had concluded, was in neither of their interest. They recognized that there were some battles royal ahead where they would both be figuratively seeking to scratch each others eyes out and choke one another to death, but knew just the same that such a spectacle could create a circumstance where both would lose and end up on the outside looking in. Accordingly, efforts were made to keep attention to their mortal political battle to a minimum.
At that point, more and more cities throughout the United States, California and San Bernardino County were taking advantage of the opportunity for government transparency the revolution in digital technology afforded them. They began broadcasting videos of governmental activity such as council meetings, planning commission meetings and town halls into the living rooms of those city residents willing to tune in, and many mounted on their websites a catalog or archive of past meetings and events that had been captured on video so that the public could watch and witness at their leisure the action of their elected officials. Ontario remained rooted in the previous century, giving their citizens no such glimpse into what they were doing on a biweekly basis. With just a handful of exceptions, other cities in the county were light years ahead of Ontario, the most economically-enabled city in San Bernardino County, in using post modern means of technology and communication to keep the Ontario City Council’s constituents informed. It would not be for several more years before Ontario’s elected officials, reluctantly, accepted the inevitable and consented to allowing a permanent record of the council meetings to be memorialized in video form, and then had those videos archived and available for viewing on the city’s website. Even though the city has now made viewing its meetings on its website possible, it restricts its archives of the council videos going back to cover a period of no more than eight months, making it impossible for residents to research council public discussions or view the council’s actions prior to that.
Upon Dorst-Porada taking her position on the council in December 2008 and the establishment of Alan Wapner as the de facto leader of the council, there ensued some vicious infighting.
If he were to become mayor, Wapner calculated, he would need to either put a good sized hole beneath Leon’s waterline or otherwise erode his willingness to stay in office.
In league with Bowman and Dorst-Porada, Wapner was able prevent any initiatives that Leon championed as mayor which made their way in front of the council from achieving fruition, and he used his vote and those of the two he controlled to vote virtually anything that originated with Leon down, robbing the mayor of his ability to claim effectiveness as a political leader.
At that time, members of the city council were given modest $800 per month stipends for their service on the council. The mayor, as the city’s representative and ambassador who was constantly attending groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings, was provided with another $50,000 per year emolument. In 2009, Wapner, Bowman and Dorst-Porada voted to rescind that.
When that did not convince Leon to toss in the towel, Wapner and Bowman played dirty, hiring an attorney, Loredana Nesci, who came before the city council and appeared elsewhere alleging, Leon, a pastor with Hope Chapel in Ontario, was a morally bankrupt hypocrite, while attempting to convince his congregation to oust him as their spiritual leader.
It so happened that Leon’s term as mayor corresponded with both Wapner’s and Bowmans’ terms as councilmen. Thus, in 2006, all three were on the ballot, as they were in 2010, again in 2014, as well as in 2018. They are on track to go before the voters again next year, in 2022. Interestingly, every four years, as their respective election seasons were approaching, a truce between Leon and his two rivals would be called, and for the purposes of their separate reelection efforts, each would celebrate the accomplishment of the council “team” they were all a part of. They would go so far as to appear together for photo opportunities on the grounds of Ontario City Hall with the media present, looking for all the world like proud brothers in municipal governance. The sniping between them would be suspended for three to four months. Each time, in 2010, in 2014 and 2018, all three were re-elected, shutting out their challengers.
The troika – Leon, Wapner and Bowman – is virtually assured of staying in office, so commanding has the fundraising advantage each of them has over any who would challenge them. By 2014, both Leon and Wapner had over a quarter of a million dollars in their campaign war chests. Bowman’s edge wasn’t quite as impressive, with his electioneering fund totaling just over $225,000.
Though Wapner was convinced that his rightful position was that of mayor and it was Leon who should be councilman if he was to be on the council at all, Wapner was never bold enough to challenge Leon for Ontario’s mayoralty, since to do so he would need to forsake running for city council, and he simply could not risk giving up his sure hold on the council spot he occupies to get into a race where Leon would be able to bring his Hispanic heritage to bear in an appeal to the city’s overwhelmingly Latino electorate.
Shortly after the elections in which they were involved had run their course, Leon would once again take up his position as mayor on a council which was composed of a majority of members at odds with his ideal self-identity as the leader of Ontario.
In the 2012 election, both Councilwoman Sheila Mautz, Leon’s last remaining ally on the council, and Councilwoman Dorst-Porada, who through her firm and fast alignment with Bowman had provided Wapner with his hold on the council and the city over the previous four years, stood for reelection. Dorst-Porada, who is one of the wealthiest council members in all of San Bernardino County and has no issue with using her personal financial reach and power of incumbency to maintain her hold on the council position she possesses, won handily. Mautz, however, lost. Replacing her was Paul Vincent Avila, who since the 1970s had been seeking political office. Avila had proven to be one of the most persistent political candidates in San Bernardino County history.
Beginning in the 1970s, throughout the 1980s, into the 1990s and then after the turn of the century, Avila became a constant candidate for political office. He ran for Congress and the California Legislature. He sought election to the State Franchise Tax Board. He vied for local office, at the municipal level as well as with local districts, such as water boards and school boards. For decades he was unsuccessful. He was a complete political unsophisticate unschooled in the art and science of campaigning, who drew little distinction between the various interest groups a successful politician needed to appeal to. He did not understand that campaigns often stand or fall on a candidate’s courting of a core of the electorate – known as high propensity voters – who are the most likely to vote. He did not recognize that such voters existed, let alone how to identify them and thereafter target them in a promotional blitz.
In the last quarter century, the period for which election data is readily available, Avila ran, unsuccessfully, for a position on the Ontario City Council in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. In addition, Avilla in 2000 ran in the open primary race for Assembly in the 61st District. In the 2002 Primary race, he ran for Fourth District County Supervisor. In 2006 and 2008, he again vied for the Democratic nomination in the 61st Assembly District.
Avila claimed that when he was a soldier in Viet Nam, one of his comrades in arms, who lay mortally wounded by the enemy, in what was virtually his last breath got Avila to promise him that if he survived the war, he would exercise his rights as a citizen and run for political office every chance he had.
After more than three decades of doing just that, Avila, with only blind determination and perseverance, had garnered a good number of campaign signs and considerable name recognition among voters. In 2005, he hit pay dirt at last, when he ran successfully for a position on the Ontario-Montclair School District Board. Five years later, after the district had changed its elections from odd- to even-number years, he was reelected.
Two years later, Avila, cresting on the name recognition he had garnered from being a perpetual candidate and his status as an incumbent school board member, ran for city council, challenging, along with six others, the two incumbents, Sheila Mautz and Debra Dorst-Porada. Avila finished behind Dorst-Porada but well ahead of Mautz for second place and a berth on the council.
Leon, bereft of his erstwhile ally Mautz, mulled forming a new alliance with Avila, considering all contingencies, including the possibility that either Wapner or Bowman or Dorst-Porada for some reason, potentially including appointment to another office, might vacate the council, and by forming an alignment with his or her successor and Avila, he might recapture control of the council. In a very short time, however, it became obvious that Avila was mentally unstable. This became apparent when, as the time for his being sworn in to take his place on the council approached, he declared himself unwilling to resign his position on the Ontario-Montclair School Board to assume his council position. Legal authorities, including the Ontario city attorney and the general counsel to the district, held that the two offices were incompatible. Still, Avila maintained that he had been elected to both and was therefore entitled to remain in office until the terms for each expired. He was the victim of a conspiracy of his enemies who were seeking to deny him what he was due, he said. At the last minute, Avila relented and resigned from the school board to take on the more prestigious city council post.
In many ways well-intentioned and honest, Avila instinctively found himself at odds with his council colleagues, who long before had come to an accommodation with the pay-to-play ethos of local politics in San Bernardino County, by which elected officeholders are the recipients of substantial political contributions from individuals and companies with much at stake in the decisions those politicians make, and in return those politicians vote to approve their donors’ projects, contracts or franchises. Those politicians use the money donated to them to stay in office and continue to scratch the backs of those who have scratched theirs, and so it continues. Avila sensed that there was something wrong in the way the Ontario City Council was conducting business, but he did not have the sophistication or intelligence to effectively counter it. Moreover, beyond being impolitic, he proved to be impolite and crude, as well as utterly lacking tact. He pelted Dorst-Porada with risqué and sexist remarks, sent her photos of himself shirtless, and when she rejected his advances, denied ever having done so, insisting Dorst-Porada was not physically attractive enough to have drawn his attention. Wapner gallantly flew to her defense, challenging and upbraiding Avila.
Whatever benefit might exist in forming an alliance with Avila, Leon soon recognized, would be more than offset by the liabilities of such an association. Resignedly, Leon lived with the status quo, consigned to being politically hemmed in on the council where he was mayor, and hoped for the best.
For a time, Wapner’s enmity toward Leon was diverted to Avila.
Avila began referring to Wapner by a sobriquet he had himself coined, “Old Camel Gut.” Misreading the actual dynamic that existed between Leon and Wapner, Avila came to refer to Leon as being Wapner’s “Puppet.” The hostility that had developed between Avila and the rest of the council festered, fanned by Wapner’s domineering nature and Avila’s mental illness, rendering the council meetings, on occasion, into nonproductive circuses, such that Leon, Wapner, Bowman and Dorst-Porada were grateful there were no permanent video recordings of the meetings.
It was nearly half way through Avila’s term in office that events transpired which are now resurrecting themselves to demonstrate the degree to which Ontario city government has been manipulated to the benefit of the governors at the expense of the governed.
The 2014 election season was under way in July of that year, with Avila and another inveterate campaigner, Rudy Favilla, challenging Leon for the mayor’s post, and three challengers running against Wapner and Bowman. Ruben Valencia, an Ontario resident who had already demonstrated political ambition by running, unsuccessfully, for a position on the city council in 2012, was one of the three challengers in the council race. His strategy was to take on Wapner directly and aggressively, matching in every respect that he could Wapner’s equally aggressive personality. Such might have been anticipated; both were law enforcement professionals who aspire to embody the aspect of command presence such jobs entail, Wapner at that point having been retired for some 16-and-a-half years from the Ontario Police Department and Valencia being employed as a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County.
As the various campaigns of the five candidates for city council that year – Wapner, Bowman, Valencia, Yolanda Garcia and Reina Machado – intensified, it was learned the Wapner had gone to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s City of Industry Station, out of which Valencia was stationed. There, Wapner lodged a complaint about Valencia’s political activity in Ontario, which he said was in some fashion being supported by the sheriff’s department, its premises and equipment, implying that Valencia was engaged in campaign activity while he was on the clock as a sheriff’s department employee and being paid by Los Angeles County taxpayers.
Valencia’s superiors at the City of Industry station closed ranks behind Valencia, having satisfied themselves that no misuse of Los Angeles County equipment or facilities in support of Valencia’s campaign had taken place. Valencia thereafter sought and obtained a restraining order against Wapner.
At the September 2, 2014 Ontario City Council meeting, the council adjourned into a closed session, during which the panel’s first order of business was to discuss how the city was going to respond to the restraining order that had been filed by Valencia, as well as concern that the city might be sued by the County of Los Angeles and its sheriff’s department for Wapner’s intrusion at the City of Industry Station. During the closed session, Avila made what was taken as a physical threat to Leon, and then began to advance from his position at the conference table opposite of where Leon, as mayor, sat at the head of the table. Given the narrow clearance between the wall and the chairs around the table as well as the girth of 300-pound Jim Bowman, Avila was not able to get to the mayor. An Ontario police officer was summoned into the conference room, whereupon the officer’s presence at what was supposed to be a closed-door meeting waived the city council’s claim to confidentiality, allowing the matters that were discussed therein to be disclosed to the public.
Ultimately, the city council agreed to retain for $3,000 former City Councilman Jason Anderson, who is an attorney, to represent Wapner with regard to the restraining order filed against him. Anderson was selected for the task despite the consideration that when he had been on the city council, he was on the opposite side of the political divide from Wapner. Curiously, the council sought to disguise the retaining of Anderson by disbursing the funds out of the city’s housing authority account.
Less than six weeks later, on October 7, 2014, the election heated up when a video was posted to Youtube in which it appeared Wapner was in public physically assaulting his daughter.
The footage, which was caught on a private residence’s security video, showed an event that had taken place on February 4, 2013 in the area of East Hazeltine and South Pleasant Avenue in which Wapner becoming physically aggressive in dealing with his recalcitrant then-15-year-old daughter.
According to then-Ontario Police Lieutenant David McBride, officers with his department were summoned, copies of the video were secured, witness statements were taken and Wapner and his daughter were interrogated. A report on the incident was submitted to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, which after a several month review, declined to prosecute Wapner on child abuse charges.
Surfacing as it did in the midst of Wapner’s reelection campaign, suspicion fell on Valencia, who was running hard against Wapner at the time; on J. Steve Garcia, a member of the Ontario-Montclair School District Board who was running at that time for a board position with Chaffey Joint Union High School District; and the owners of the home with the security system that had captured the video. Adroitly, Wapner and his political advisors and operatives were able to sidestep some of the controversy by diverting attention from the video’s contents to accusations about who, exactly, was responsible for posting the video on the internet. One of Wapner’s tools in this regard was Anderson, who was representing him legally at the time, at Ontario taxpayers’ expense. Intimidated by Anderson and fearing that legal action that would be expensive to defend against might be forthcoming if the video were not taken down, whoever had posted it to Youtube took it down October 22, 15 days before the November 4, 2014 election. While the spectacle did minor damage to his campaign, Wapner’s overwhelming monetary advantage vis-à-vis his campaign funding allowed him to press on with electioneering efforts, stay on task, and appeal to the city’s high propensity voters, few of whom knew of the video controversy. Wapner handily won reelection, garnering 8,351 votes or 31.92 percent, slightly outpolling Bowman, with 7,645 votes or 29.19 percent. Valencia finished a distant third, with 4,760 votes or 18.17 percent, ahead of both of the other also-rans, Yolanda Garcia and Reyna Machado. In the simultaneous mayoral contest, Leon, with 11,139 votes or 69.53 percent, trounced Avila, who polled 2,578 votes or 16.09 percent, and Favilla, who managed 2,304 votes or 14.38 percent.
The political status quo in Ontario perpetuated. If anything, the contretemps involving Avila worsened. More and more, the outside world began to take note of the exchanges between him and his colleagues, which primarily involved Wapner, who crossed swords with him on a constant basis. On occasions, the atmosphere grew so tense or poisoned, the meetings were adjourned without all of the items on the agenda being discussed and voted upon.
In 2016, Avila and Dorst-Porada had to stand for reelection. With eight challengers in the field, Avila came in forth, behind second place Dorst-Porada and first place Valencia.
Valencia’s acceding to the city council ostensibly seemed to be an auspicious development for Leon. On the panel was at last someone with whom the mayor was by nature aligned, given their common enmity toward Wapner. Indeed, Valencia was even more sharply at odds with Wapner than Leon, and he had demonstrated no qualms about mixing it up with Wapner, matching fire with fire or low blow with low blow. If Leon cultivated Valencia, he could use him as his pit bull against Wapner, while taking the high road. Like Leon, Valencia was a Republican. More than that, Valencia had some credibility and status, gravitas even. Valencia was a career law enforcement officer, which represented a card that could be played against Wapner, whose reputation, status and authority as a councilman in part stemmed from his background as a detective and police sergeant. Most importantly, Valencia was not mentally and emotionally unstable like Avila, meaning he could be relied upon to comport himself civilly, act rationally and not represent a hazard to Leon by means of association.
Somehow, however, Leon and Valencia never hit it off.
In 2018, Leon, Wapner and Bowman were returned to office.
In 2020, four years after he was first elected to the council, Valencia was returned to that post by the voters, along with Dorst-Porada.
Earlier this year, a little more than a year-and-a-half before the November 2022 election, Valencia announced that he will challenge Leon for the mayoralty.
In preparation for that contest, Valencia and his support network have moved toward arming themselves with information and material they believe will assist Valencia in knocking Leon off.
One of those things is everything that can be learned about the city’s 2014 hiring of Jason Anderson to represent Wapner in the face of the restraining order Valencia obtained against him in the midst of the then-ongoing election campaign. Something about the way that was carried off doesn’t look right, Valencia and his supporters believe. Why, they want to know, did the city cover the cost of retaining Anderson to attempt to stand that restraining order down? Why, they ask, was it not let up to Wapner to retain his own counsel in contesting the restraining order? What, exactly, they want to find out, was the nature of the work Anderson was doing for the city? Was, they want to know, Wapner acting on behalf of the city when he went to the City of Industry Sheriff’s Station, in the middle of an election campaign, to lodge a complaint against a candidate vying against him? Why, they are curious, did the city retain Anderson through the housing authority rather than directly? How, they are asking, did Anderson’s professional efforts pertain to the housing authority? What, they want to know, became of the video seized by the Ontario Police Department during its investigation of the February 4, 2013 incident involving Wapner’s public disciplining of his daughter? What information, they are asking, was contained or not contained in the report on the February 4, 2013 incident that was sent to the district attorney’s office?
Valencia’s authority as a councilman, apparently, does not extend to his being provided with answers to those questions. Consequently, his supporter used the California Public Records Act in an attempt to obtain as much of that information as they could. In response, they received what are essentially non-answers.
In response to the public records act requests, they were informed by Assistant City Clerk Claudia Y. Isbell that all of the documents relating to the nature of the work done by Anderson, the payment made to him for that work and the product produced by that work or any reports related thereto “were authorized for destruction on May 4, 2020, and subsequently destroyed on July 1, 2020.”
As to the requests to get the materials and documents contained in the investigation into the February 4, 2013 incident involving Wapner and his daughter, Isbell wrote, “the report you have requested is confidential under Penal Code Section 11167.5 and cannot be disclosed to members of the public.”
Like sharks, those in Valencia’s camp smell blood in the water and they are circling Leon and Wapner.
Seemingly simultaneous to all of this, the bad blood between Leon and Wapner that has existed for a decade-and-a-half, has resolved itself. Apparent at Ontario City Council meetings is that the quartet of Leon, Wapner, Bowman and Dorst-Porada are functioning like a humming and perfectly tuned and well-lubricated machine with all pistons firing in precisely-timed sequence and that Valencia is the wrench that has been tossed into the works.
Leon did not deny that he has come, at long last, to a too-much delayed accommodation with Wapner. He said he was inspired to it by an act of statesmanship at the international level.
“I was reading some history about the Cold War and how it came to an end,” Leon said. “What happened was [Soviet Premier] Mikhail Gorbachev called [then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later-Secretary of State] Colin Powell and he said, “You are going to have to find another enemy. I am no longer your enemy. We have been looking at each other across the Fulda Gap [the vast no-man’s land between the Soviet and American forces at the border of then-East Germany and then-West Germany, garrisoned on both sides with tanks and other heavily-mechanized military forces] for too long. I am not your enemy. The past has to get buried.”
After reading that, Leon said he then engaged in some statesmanship of his own with Wapner.
“I sat down with him and I said, ‘I am not your enemy. We have to find a way to work this out,'” Leon said. “He was genuinely touched by that. It didn’t happen immediately, I can tell you that. It took a couple of months for him to come back. He said, ‘You’re right. How do we fix this?’ I said, “First, we make up our minds to get along and then we work together.”
He and Wapner have been in harmony ever since, he said.
Leon acknowledged that he and Wapner were “in hate with each other. He tried to ruin me. It was a grudge match. Does anyone want to live with that continually? We’re both 65 now. When we serve to the end of the next terms we’ll be elected to next year, we’ll be 70 years old. We’re tired of the fight, both of us. Why would we want to spend the last five years of our time in public office fighting over something that happened almost a generation ago? We decided to lay that to rest. Now we’ve gotten down to work. We’re at peace and we’ve been good.”
Leon insisted he is not quaking in his boots over Valencia’s political challenge. Having been in municipal office in Ontario for nearly 23 years, having won seven straight municipal elections, and sitting on a campaign war chest of a quarter of a million dollars, Leon said he won’t be running scared in 2022, but rather striding confidently.
Ontario being what it is, the most accomplished and the most financially successful of San Bernardino County’s cities, is a product of sound management, sensible decisions and clear long-term vision, he said.
Valencia doesn’t have the experience or vision he and Wapner possess, Leon said, and the junior member of the council is not at this point capable of working cooperatively to accomplish anything.
“I don’t have a relationship with him, as far as I’m concerned,” Leon said. “I’m not opposed to working with him if he brings in some good ideas. In the last year I haven’t heard him recommend one thing.”
Leon continued, “I don’t necessarily say he is a bad guy, but at the same time, he obviously has no respect for anyone else on the council. He doesn’t want to be a team player and he doesn’t seem to be interested working toward a common goal.”
Over substantial community opposition, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission on Thursday, July 22 recommended that the county board of supervisors give approval to a truck terminal project proposed by developers David Wiener and Scott Beard to be located at 10746 Cedar Cedar Avenue in Bloomington.
The proposed development is located on a 9-acre parcel slightly north and across the street from a truck stop proposed by Nachhattar Chandi on the southeast corner of Cedar and Santa Ana avenues that was approved by the board of supervisors in April.
There were 14 Bloomington residents who spoke before the commission in opposition to the project and 126 letters of concern or opposition to the truck terminal project received by the county’s land use services department prior to the hearing.
Nevertheless, the planning commission entered a 3-to-1 decision to endorse the project, with Commissioner Kareem Gongora dissenting and Commissioner Raymond Allard recusing himself.
Bloomington is a 6.01-square mile unincorporated community with 25,482 residents, bounded by Rialto on its east and northeast sides, Fontana on its west and north west sides and the Riverside County line on its south side. Traditionally, Bloomington has been an agricultural community which has over the last 60 years transitioned into a heavily used transportation corridor because of four major east west arterials that traverse it – Valley Blvd, Slover Avenue, Jurupa Avenue and Santa Ana Avenue, all of which lead to or toward Ontario International Airport, as well as the I-10 Freeway and the Santa Fe/Burlington Northern/Union Pacific rail line. The community is saturated with over one hundred illegal truck-related operations. Simultaneously, the county has been permitting trucking-related operations and warehouses to be built within the community, while Fontana and Rialto have given approval to trucking related concerns and warehouses at the periphery of Bloomington.
Thus, a significant segment of Bloomington residents find themselves in a struggle against local government and elements within the community itself pushing toward reinventing the unincorporated town into a transit center. Those residents are at a distinct disadvantage, given their individual and collective lack of wherewithal in taking on more the sophisticated and more economically enabled entities with an financial incentive in seeing that transition take place.
Available demographic and financial information simultaneously paints Bloomington residents, as a whole, as among the most impoverished and the least well-educated and sophisticated of San Bernardino County’s 2.2 million residents. Roughly 81 percent of Bloomington’s population is Hispanic or Latino, with 14.1 percent non-Hispanic Caucasian, 2.7 percent African American, 1.2 percent Native American, and 1.4 percent Asian. The median household income in Bloomington was $34,106 in 2018 and the median family income was $35,936. Single men living there had a median income of $30,680 versus $20,606 for single woman. About 19.8 percent of families and 25.3 percent of the population fall below the poverty line. Over 20 percent of the population is not fluent in English.
Those Bloomington residents resisting the move toward constructing more and more trucking-oriented developments in their midst are in need of a champion willing to carry that fight into the court system.
After the Chandi truck stop project was given approval by the board of supervisors in April, it so happened that the Colton Joint Unified School District did emerge to file suit against the county contesting the approval of that undertaking, putting it on hold until the litigation is resolved.
It is unclear at this point, however, whether the school district or another entity, such as the Sierra Club or the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, will carry the burden of engaging in litigation to contest the approval of the truck terminal project if the board of supervisors follows the recommendation made by the planning commission yesterday.
Previously, the county and Anthony DeLuca, a senior planner in the county department of land use services who is processing the project application, referred to the proposal as a truck terminal. At this point, the county is referring to it as a “trailer storage” yard. This effort to minimize the intensity of the operation appears to be an indication that the project will be given approval when it comes before the board of supervisors, most likely in August or September.
There have been hints but no explicit acknowledgement that the project is to be the eventual headquarters/regional office/operating yard for a trucking company. The facility would provide storage for trailers during delivery off-seasons and/or between deliveries, and would run seven days a week and 24 hours a day, with an average of more than 700 truck trips into or out of the terminal daily. The project is to include 275 parking spaces in total, 260 spaces of which will be 12 feet by 55 feet. The proposed project includes a 2,400 square-foot building for office use and storage, an approximate 250 square-foot guard shack, and a 4,800 square-foot maintenance shop with four repair bays.
The county is using a mitigated negative declaration to provide the project with its environmental certification, rather than a more comprehensive environmental impact report.
A full scale environmental impact report is the most intensive form of environmental certification, involving a study of the project site, the project proposal, the potential and actual impacts the project will have on the site and surrounding area in terms of all conceivable issues, including land use, water use, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, biological and cultural resources, as well as health impacts on individuals living or working in proximity to the project. An environmental impact report specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts.
A mitigated negative declaration is a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project than an environmental impact report, involving the panel entrusted with a community’s ultimate land use authority, in this case the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, considering an initial study of the project completed by county staff and thereafter issuing a declaration that all adverse environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated, or offset, by the conditions of approval of the project imposed upon the developer.
A potential issue that could be exploited in legal action taken against the county for approving the project is that it failed to carry out a more exacting form of environmental certification.
That Commissioner Kareem Gongora voted against recommending project approval might have some significance. Gongora is an appointee of Fifth District Supervisor Joe Baca Jr. Bloomington lies within the Fifth District. Whether or not Gongora’s vote reflects how Baca will come down on the issue remains to be seen. In many cases, with regard to development proposals, the supervisors defer to the judgment of the supervisor in whose district that particular project is located. Under normal circumstances, the entire board will follow the lead of a supervisor who either supports or opposes a project within his/her district. In this case, however, the remainder of the board might not be inclined to support Baca in his decision if he opposes the truck terminal, since both Wiener and Beard have been major donors to the political war chests of the remaining supervisors: Curt Hangman, Janice Rutherford, Dawn Rowe and Paul Cook.
Planning Commissioner Raymond Allard did not cast a vote on the recommendation because, he said, he had performed engineering work for Wiener and Beard on other projects they are engaged in.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn has finalized his decision which upholds a crucial element of a challenge a citizens’ group made to the approval of a 201,096-square foot distribution facility for online retail sales behemoth Amazon near the western end of Upland just north of the Foothill Boulevard/Route 66 corridor.
On June 14, 2021 Judge Cohn issued a tentative ruling granting a petition filed by Upland Community First for a writ of mandate against the City of Upland based on what that group contended were shortcomings in the environmental certification of the Amazon distribution center project, for which Bridge Development Partners was given go-ahead last year. This week, on Monday, July 19, Judge Cohn finalized that decision.
A writ of mandate is a court order to a government agency to follow the law by correcting its prior actions or ceasing illegal acts.
On April 1, 2020, the Upland City Council, over the protests of 22 residents who went on record as being opposed to the warehouse during a remotely held city council meeting to consider the project, gave 4-to-1 approval of Bridge’s request to construct a single 201,096-square foot facility involving 25 dock high loading bays for 18-wheeler trucks, another 32 bays for delivery vans and trucks, along with 1,438 parking spaces around the building. The facility was slated for a 50-acre site in Upland north of Foothill Boulevard slightly east of Central Avenue and south of Cable Airport.
From the outset, the project was steeped in controversy. It was originally previewed to the community by Bridge’s corporate representatives in June 2019 as three buildings comprising 977,000 square feet.
Over the next several months, as objections to the scope of the proposal manifested, the tentative site plan was modified several times until in October 2019, a revamped conception of the project was presented, one that was reduced to a single structure of 276,250 square feet. When the environmental review documentation for the project was posted on December 16, 2019, it came in the form of a negative mitigated declaration. In that documentation, the project was shown as a having been reduced once more to a 201,096-square-foot distribution center, with 1,438 parking spaces contained on the project grounds.
The city allowed the project to proceed toward approval without being subject to a comprehensive environmental impact report, which many Upland residents believed should have been carried out for a project of such size, intensity and complexity. Rather, the city elected to use a mitigated negative declaration to complete the environmental review process.
An environmental impact report is an involved study of the project site, the project proposal, the potential and actual impacts the project will have on the site and surrounding area in terms of all conceivable issues, including land use, water use, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, and biological and cultural resources. It specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts. A mitigated negative declaration is a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project, by which the panel entrusted with the city’s ultimate land use authority, in this case the city council, issues a declaration that all adverse environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated, or offset, by the conditions of approval of the project imposed upon the developer.
A cross section of the city’s residents disputed the city council’s declaration that all impacts from the project had been adequately mitigated, based both on the magnitude of the project and the consideration that the city council lacked land use and environmental expertise. There were questions as well as to whether the zoning at the project site would allow a distribution facility to be established there. Moreover, many people found it highly disturbing that Bridge Development Partners consistently refused to officially acknowledge that Amazon was to be the eventual tenant at the warehouse for the initial 50-year life of the completed project. Bridge/Amazon has an option to renew the lease on the property for another 50-year period, potentially making the project an issue in the city for the next century. Suspicion remained that the project would be subject to substantial expansion, without any further environmental analysis, perhaps to as large as the 977,000 square feet originally proposed, since 1,438 parking spaces is far in excess of what would normally be needed for a 201,096-square foot warehouse. Another major concern was that the project proposal offered no provision for offsetting the sales tax revenue loss that would come about as a consequence of Amazon’s on-line operational model, nor did it remunerate the city for infrastructure damage that would inevitably occur over a 50-year or potentially a 100-year period if the project were to proceed.
On February 12, 2020, the Upland Planning Commission voted 3-to-2 to recommend that the city council not approve project. Two weeks later, on February 26, 2020, the commission met again, and in a move unprecedented in Upland’s history, reversed itself, voting 4-to-2 to recommend that the city council approve the project, with two of the members who had voted against the project on February 12, Linden Brouse and Gary Schwary, changing their votes.
On April 1, 2020, the Upland City Council by a 4-to-1 vote approved the project, in doing so accepting a $17 million development agreement offered by Bridge Development Partners. That approval included the council’s mitigated negative declaration rather than an in-depth environmental impact report.
Thereafter, a contingent of Upland citizens banded together, taking on the name Upland Community First. The group’s members retained attorney Cory Briggs, who then filed a petition for a writ of mandate, seeking from the court an order that the city revisit the environmental review process for the project, make a determination that the mitigated negative declaration was inadequate and require that a full-blown environmental impact report for the project be carried out before the project is allowed to proceed.
As a consequence of the Upland Community First legal filing, any action toward the completion of the project, including site grading, was suspended.
In the meantime, Bridge Development Partners seemingly recruited Bill Velto, who voted in April 2020 as a member of the city council to approve the project and who in November 2020 was elected Upland mayor, to serve as its agent in approaching members of Upland Community First in an effort to get that group to end its challenge of the project approval. To that end, Velto indicated via text messages that Bridge Development Partners had expressed a willingness to more than double the $17 million in project impact offsets the company had agreed to pay in the development agreement for the project approved in April 2020 to $40 million. That offer was conditional upon Upland Community First dropping its demand for a comprehensive environmental impact report and accepting an environmental review that would allow the project to proceed, without any of the changes that would typically be required by an environmental impact report. Upland Community First spurned those offers, insisting that the matter be resolved though the writ of mandate proceeding.
While ultimately, Judge Cohn, who considered the petition for a writ of mandate, entered a finding that the mitigated negative declaration the city council made to clear the way for the project to proceed was inadequate, he did so on relatively narrow grounds. His order was that the mitigated negative declaration with regard to one aspect of the project had to be done over, but his order did not include a requirement that the environmental certification on that aspect of the project, relating to the emission of green house gasses, be carried out as part of a full environmental impact report. His findings let stand the other portions of the environmental certification that were contained in the original mitigated negative declaration.
Cohn sided with the city in rejecting Upland Community First’s contention that the mitigated negative declaration underestimated traffic counts anticipated from the distribution center, and he took issue with the citizen group’s assertion that the city should not have described the project as a high-cube parcel hub warehouse and rather should have classified it as a fulfillment center.
Cohn rejected Upland Community First’s contention that the project was in conflict with Upland’s general plan and zoning code, specifically that distribution centers are not allowed in an area zoned for commercial/industrial mixed-use, and are only allowed in industrial zones. “Allowable uses within this land use category include commercial and industrial” development,” Judge Cohn wrote.
He set aside Upland Community First’s assertion that the zoning issues relating to the project invalidated the project’s approval and entered “an express finding the project is consistent with the general plan and zoning ordinances as a permissible use. [T]he California Environmental Quality Act does not provide that ‘any inconsistencies necessarily constitute significant environmental impacts.’ Noncompliance with an existing general plan or a zoning ordinance is not itself substantial evidence in support of a fair argument the project may have a significant impact on the environment. [T]hat the project is not a permitted use is not substantial evidence in support of a fair argument of environmental impacts.”
Judge Cohn ruled that any conclusions Upland Community First’s members may have drawn based on the number of parking spaces included in the project plans were speculative.
Judge Cohn ruled Upland Community First did not have adequate grounds or authority to dispute the terms of the development agreement the city entered into with Bridge Development Partners and he said the city council had the authority and discretion to enter into that arrangement.
Furthermore, Judge Cohn found, Upland Community First’s contention that the city had failed to adequately define the project was unsupportable, and he ruled that the project as truly defined by the city – a “warehouse/parcel delivery service building” – was an allowed use.
“The city’s conclusion that the project is allowed as warehousing is reasonable and entitled to deference,” Judge Cohn wrote.
Judge Cohn also found unpersuasive Upland Community First’s argument that the mitigated negative declaration should be rescinded because the April 1, 2020 city council meeting at which the project was given go-ahead was conducted in an electronic and remotely-held forum that did not give Upland residents adequate opportunity to provide input with regard to the project.
Nevertheless, Judge Cohn was driven to the conclusion that the city had wrongfully used a greenhouse gas threshold of ten thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in calculating emissions from the distribution facility on a yearly basis as a maximum allowable limit. Since the city had sought to use an inoperative maximum threshold for emissions, he said, the mitigated negative declaration was flawed, and had to be done over.
Greenhouse gasses are those such as carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons, which create a “greenhouse” effect, that is, causing the atmosphere to increase in temperature through the constant absorption of infrared radiation.
“The failure to provide substantial evidence to justify the single quantitative method used as the greenhouse gas threshold of significance constitutes a prejudicial abuse of discretion,” Judge Cohn ruled. “The public and decision-makers have not been provided sufficient information necessary to understand the threshold or the data used in the analysis establishing the threshold and reason for the significant change in baseline emissions in the subsequent greenhouse gas analysis. Accordingly, the city’s approval of the mitigated negative declaration is set aside.”
Upland Community First and the project’s opponents were able to notch a victory in that they proved the contention they had all along that the mitigated negative declaration was inadequate. They now have an assurance that the city will need to revisit the environmental certification of the project, as well.
Still, the terms of the victory achieved are relatively modest compared to what had been the stated intention of the legal action, which was to force the City of Upland to carry out a full-fledged environmental impact report for the entirety of the project.
Cohn wrote in his decision that “the petition for writ is granted based on the city’s failure to establish an appropriate threshold of significance to apply to the greenhouse gasses analysis for this warehouse project, where the primary sources of emissions is mobile. Once information necessary to set the appropriate threshold is provided, the city may determine whether a mitigated negative declaration or an environmental impact report is appropriate.”
Though Cohn unequivocally established that the city’s finding of no significant effect on the environment with respect to greenhouse gas emissions was unsupportable, his ruling does not mean, necessarily, that an environmental impact report is required. The city has discretion to choose an appropriate “threshold of significance” and to determine under that standard whether an environmental impact report is required.
The council has undergone change since the April 2020 vote, with two of its members, then-Councilman Ricky Felix and then-Mayor Debbie Stone, having departed. The two council newcomers – First District Councilwoman Shannan Maust and Third District Councilman Carlos Garcia – appear to be more empathetic to the issues raised by Upland Community First than were Stone and Felix or the other two members of the council who joined with them in approving the project, then-Councilman and now-Mayor Bill Velto and Councilman Rudy Zuniga.
Though Upland Community First might have gotten some but not all of what it wanted by pursuing the writ of mandate, a byproduct of that effort was that the project was put on hold. That delay, which has been ongoing for a period of more than 14 months, may have convinced Bridge to simply give up on the Upland project. This spring, Bridge Development Partners approached the City of Rancho Cucamonga about constructing in that city two new contemporary warehouse buildings with a combined building area, including mezzanine space, of approximately 2,175,000 square feet consisting of 2,134,000 square feet of warehouse uses and 41,000 square feet of ancillary office space. There would be approximately 2,136,200 square feet of ground level floor space and approximately 38,800 square feet of mezzanine in the complex, which is to be built on 91.4 acres located at 12434 4th Street in the City of Rancho Cucamonga, bounded by 4th Street to the south, which is also the jurisdictional boundary between the City of Rancho Cucamonga and the City of Ontario, and 6th Street to the north, and generally located between Etiwanda Avenue to the east and Santa Anita Avenue to the west.
While Bridge has not identified the tenant that will locate into those structures, representing ten times the square-footage proposed in Upland, a logical assumption is the facility is intended for Amazon. Initially, when Bridge undertook its efforts in Upland, it did not identify Amazon as the building tenant.
Were Amazon to establish a fulfillment center in neighboring Rancho Cucamonga with very close freeway access, it is likely that Amazon’s need to operate a smaller facility in Upland would diminish.
Less than a month after reports surfaced that Former Fontana City Manager Ken Hunt had shaken her former colleague Acquanetta Warren down for some $1.1 Million, Second District San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford has offered him work for the next seventeen months as her chief of staff.
Hunt, who began with the City of Fontana as a municipal employee in 1990 and was making a gradual rise up the chain of responsibility in that city, had the role of guiding the city thrust on him in the aftermath of Greg Devereaux’s 1997 departure to become the city manager in Ontario. In 1999 Hunt became the full-fledged city manager in Fontana.
Fontana was beset with a series of financial challenges in the 1980s and early 1990s, ones which had been redressed by several revenue enhancing arrangements that Devereaux made while he was both Fontana’s housing and redevelopment director and city manager in the early and mid-1990s.
Hunt’s management of the city in large measure followed the program Devereaux had designed, and the city experienced tremendous growth. In the years since, Fontana’s population has reached 217,237, making it San Bernardino County’s second largest city, less than 1,000 behind the county seat, San Bernardino.
Hunt was hailed as a competent city administrator, indeed one who was considered indispensable to the efficient operation of City Hall, without whom effective and good governance in Fontana could not be attained. Among the elected community leaders in Fontana during his tenure there was Janice Rutherford, who was elected to the city council in 2000, and reelected in 2004 and 2008. In 2010, Rutherford successfully vied for county supervisor in the Second District, and was subsequently reelected to that post in 2014 and 2018. Another elected official was Acquanetta Warren, who was appointed to the city council in 2002 and then elected to the council in 2004 and reelected in 2008, whereafter, in 2010, she successfully ran for mayor, and was reelected mayor twice, in 2014 and 2018.
Rutherford and Warren developed a strong and positive working relationship with Hunt. By 2011, Hunt was the highest paid city manager in San Bernardino County. In 2016 he was the third highest paid city manager in California. In 2018, he was the second highest paid city manager in California.
When Hunt’s rate of pay was cited or questioned, Fontana’s city council members and Mayor Warren forthrightly asserted that Hunt’s level of pay was more than justified, and that he was key to the continued financial health and managerial efficiency of the city. Paying him at that rate was not only a fair remuneration for the job he was doing, but insurance that he would remain in the post for the foreseeable future, at least until his current contract was to expire in 2021, and hopefully, they said, for another five years beyond that.
In May 2019, however, Hunt confronted Warren about disturbing information he had come across indicating she was on the take, stemming from knowledge he had that city contracts she had voted to approve and which she had induced three of her council colleagues to approve had not gone to the lowest bidder. Instantaneously, Hunt was on the outs with Warren. To prevent him from going public, however, she arranged to have a separation agreement with him drafted, signed by Hunt on July 12, 2019, which arranged to have him leave at once but kept him on the city payroll until the end of January 2020, so that he would reach his 30-year milestone as a public employee. The pay he received during that six month period totaled $194,755. In addition, as part of the severance package, Hunt was provided with another year’s salary and benefits running through until January 2021 of $464,584.53 along with a settlement stipend of $468,038.47, which totaled another $932,623. Thus, Hunt was paid $1,127,378 by Fontana after he quit working for the city.
Neither Warren nor the city made a disclosure of the arrangements made with Hunt. Warren’s account of what had transpired was amended several times. The settlement, she at one point said, was made by the city to accommodate his desire to leave, which implied his departure was a voluntary one of his own choosing. The contract Hunt was working under before his departure, which ran through 2021, however, made clear that he would be provided no severance if he left of his own volition. When questioned why the city had then given Hunt what totaled to more than a $1.1 million severance when the city had no contractual obligation to make such a payout, Warren evaded the question.
The separation agreement contains a clause prohibiting Hunt from saying anything about the reason for his departure other than that it was an “amicable” one.
Next Tuesday, July 27, the board of supervisors is set to consider an item brought before it by Supervisor Rutherford which calls for the board to “Approve [a] new employment contract with Kenneth Hunt to provide support services to the Second District Supervisor as chief of staff, effective July 31, 2021, for an estimated annual cost of $252,465 (salary – $156,125, benefits – $96,340).”
The report for the item states “Staff services to members of the board of supervisors are provided through contractual arrangement, as required by the county charter. The recommended employment contract would engage Kenneth Hunt to provide support services to the Second District supervisor as chief of staff, effective July 31, 2021. Either party may terminate the contract at any time without cause with a 14-day prior written notice to the other party. The contract may be terminated for just cause immediately by the county.”
Hunt is being brought in to replace her most recent chief of staff, Phil Paule, who left her employ yesterday to move into a position as the chief of staff for Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel.
Hunt will be Rutherford’s fourth, and likely last, chief of staff. She will be termed out of office in December 2022. Previous to Paule, her chief of staff was Andrew Takata, who succeeded Chad Mayes.
A suspicious fire at Liberty Sculpture Park that apparently took place earlier today or late yesterday destroyed Weiming Chen’s latest artwork and political statement, CCP Virus.
In existence since 2017, Liberty Sculpture Park in Yermo, some 11 miles east of Barstow and visible from the northeast bound lanes south of the I-15 Freeway, is home to artwork by Chen, who characterizes himself as equal parts sculptor and freedom activist. The works Chen has established in the 36-acre compound in the Mojave Desert are intended to celebrate the human spirit in its longing for freedom in the face of the oppression of tyranny, which in the modern world, according to Chen, is represented by communism.
Chen was born in Hangzhou, China in 1970 and now resides in both New Zealand and the United States. On June 4 he unveiled CCP Virus [i.e., Chinese Communist Party Virus] and his other latest work, titled Victims of Communism. They joined other Chen pieces, including a bust of Chief Crazy Horse, the inside of the headdress for which bears the phrase, “Give me liberty or give me death”; a statue of Chinese activist Li Wangyang; Tank Man, which shows the still-unidentified man with two shopping bags who stood down a tank on June 5, 1989 during protests that took place in Tiniananmen Square that year; 64, which commemorates the Tiniananmen Square protests, which, according to unverified reports contradicted by the Chinese Communist Government, ended in the massacre of somewhere between 200 and 2,000 protesters; and the work Liberate Hong Kong.
Until it was destroyed, CCP Virus was a three dimensional depiction of a coronavirus cell melded into the head of a man’s head/skeleton. The intended statement was that COVID-19 is the product of a military/governmental lab in Wuhan, China. Such suggestions, even in the United States, were formerly dismissed as anti-Chinese propaganda, but the scientific community more recently has partially credited that account, suggesting the COVID-19 virus involved genetic manipulations of a naturally occurring virus. Experts are divided on the purpose of the alterations with most saying they were done to advance legitimate research on how to combat the disease, while a minority believe there may have been a darker, more sinister intent at play.
The Sentinel was notified of what had occurred just prior to press time, and has been unable to determine if the destruction of Weiming Chen’s political statement was a misguided effort at a countervailing political statement.
The other sculptures at the park remain intact.