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.”