SB Lost Two Department Heads In Two Days This Week

The City of San Bernardino lost two of its key department heads this week, as City Hall’s stability or the lack thereof is becoming an increasingly poignant factor in the county seat’s mayoral crisis.
Eric McBride, who has been serving in the capacity of acting police chief since January 2019, retired on Tuesday. The next day, Community Development Director Michael Huntley tendered his resignation.
McBride’s and Huntley’s departures mark the fourth and fifth defections in the last two months from the management and governing circle that has surrounded Mayor John Valdivia for all or a significant part of his mostly rocky 33-month tenure as mayor.
In August, Renee Brizuela, who had been Valdivia’s executive assistant, along with Jim Tickemyer, who had headed the city’s parks and recreation department, stepped away from their positions with the city. At the end of July, Assistant City Manager Rebekah Kramer left.
In 2018, Valdivia, who had been San Bernardino’s Third Ward Councilman since 2012, was elected mayor. He assumed office in December 2018 with a ruling coalition behind him that included newly-elected First Ward Councilman Ted Sanchez and newly-elected Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, as well as two incumbents on the council with whom he was allied, Fifth Ward Councilman Henry Nickel and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Bessine Richard. Valdivia would strengthen his hold on the council with the addition of Councilman Juan Figueroa, who won the special election held in May 2019 to fill the gap on the council representing the Third Ward that had come about when Valdivia resigned from that position to move into the mayor’s slot. At the midway point of 2019, the only opposition on the council Valdivia was faced with was that of Fourth Ward Councilman Fred Shorett and Seventh Ward Councilman Jim Mulvihill. In relatively short order, however, as Valdivia militated to collect political donations for his future campaigns and fatten his own personal bank account by engineering city council votes favoring his political donors and the clients of his consulting company, he gradually lost the support of Nickel, Ibarra and Sanchez.
In the late winter/early spring of 2020, three female employees within Valdivia’s office and a woman on whom he had conferred two city commission appointments spelled out numerous incidents in which the mayor had made sexual overtures toward them, touching off further revelations from other mayoral office employees about improprieties Valdivia had engaged in, which included bribetaking and misappropriation of city funds. Seven employees of the mayor’s office departed, either of their own volition to get clear of Valdivia or as a result of being terminated because of their incompatibility with him. Five of those filed suit against the city and Valdivia, based on his alleged behavior and action toward them.
In 2020, Councilwoman Richard, one of Valdivia’s two remaining allies on the council, was voted out of office, and replaced by Kimberly Calvin. In the nine months Calvin has been in office, she has evolved into one of Valdivia’s implacable political foes.
Figueroa was reelected in 2020, and he remains as Valdivia’s one reliable supporter on the council. Both Nickel and Mulvihill were voted out of office in 2020, replaced, respectively, by Ben Reynoso and Damon Alexander. Reynoso at this point is competing with Calvin for the title of Valdivia’s primary political nemesis on the council. Though Valdivia had hoped he might cultivate Alexander as member of his political machine, that has not occurred. Alexander, while not necessarily hostile toward the mayor, has demonstrated sharp differences with him over multiple issues.
In 2020, in what was one of Valdivia’s last political successes, he managed to induce the city council to agree to the city hiring Robert Field, who had formerly been the County of Riverside’s economic development director and a close friend of Valdivia’s lawyer, Rod Pacheco, to serve as San Bernardino city manager.
For more than six months, beholden to Valdivia for having been hired as city manager and assuming, erroneously, that Valdivia had control over the city council, Field made managerial decisions that were favorable toward Valdivia’s political donors who had business with the city. Through what has been a sometimes painful process, Field has learned that Valdivia is at diametric odds with three-sevenths of the city council and unable to control or count on the assistance of three of the other members of the council. Field’s indulgence of Valdivia during most of the first year of his tenure as city manager has created a degree of distrust toward him on the parts of Calvin and Reynoso, and left him at least partially out of sync with Ibarra and Alexander. His prospects for survival as city manager are uneven.
McBride was appointed acting police chief the month after Valdivia became mayor, when the former police chief, Jarrod Burguan, underwent knee replacement surgery. Burguan never returned, leaving McBride as his logical replacement. Despite Valdivia’s efforts to move McBride into the full-fledged police chief role, that never came about. This has been for Valdivia, McBride and the city something of an embarrassment. While McBride was given steady increases in pay over the last two-and-a-half years, there was considerable resistance to conferring the police chief position on him.
A resident of Hemet in Riverside County, McBride was formerly a member of the city council there, and in 2010 was that city’s mayor. As mayor, McBride introduced a resolution that was endorsed by the entire Hemet City Council calling for the State of California to adopt a law similar to one in Arizona that requires police officers to routinely and automatically check the immigration status of those they encounter in the field to determine whether they are undocumented immigrants. In 2015, the City of El Monte hired McBride to serve as its police chief, but rescinded that offer because the city council thought better of making him the city’s highest law enforcement official, since 68 percent of El Monte’s population is Hispanic, and the community traditionally had a laissez-faire stance with regard to immigration law enforcement. It was thought that McBride’s attitude on that issue would be equally incompatible in San Bernardino, where 60 percent of the population is Latino, and an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 illegal aliens dwell within the city.
McBride, who is now 54 and has thirty years in as a law enforcement officer, voluntarily departed from the police chief’s post, which was paying him an annual $251,000 salary plus $224,000 per years in perks and benefits for a total annual compensation of $475,000.
Valdivia’s inability to move McBride into the actual police chief post is widely seen as an indication of the mayor’s eroding grip over the 222,101-population city.
McBride has been replaced, temporarily, by acting Assistant Chief David Green. Valdivia would like, for personal and political reasons similar or even identical to those that had driven him to seek to boost McBride into the police chief position, to make Green police chief. It is even less likely, however, that Green will have that honor and title conferred upon him than that McBride would ever have become San Bernardino police chief.
Two considerations militate against Green’s police chief prospects. A litany of excessive force complaints have been lodged against Green during his time as a police officer in San Bernardino, including several which evolved into lawsuits against the city. The city lost several of those suits, resulting in awards totaling in the millions of dollars. The city ducked that issue, however, when it filed for Chapter Nine bankruptcy protection in 2012, and then-U.S. Magistrate Meredith Jury allowed the city to satisfy those judgments at a ratio of one cent on the dollar. Substantial numbers of residents on San Bernardino’s West Side, where residents have been subject to what they say is brutality on the part of the police department for decades, have made clear that they intend to take to the streets if the city so much as contemplates offering the police chief position to Green.
Green was the member of the department to whom then-Mayor-elect Valdivia had turned to for help on November 14, 2018 after he had become entangled in circumstances surrounding a hold-up and shooting at what was at that time an illicit marijuana dispensary located at 1435 North Waterman Avenue. Questions immediately emerged as to what Valdivia was doing at that location, and whether the money he had been provided with by the operator was a result of a shakedown the then-councilman/mayor-elect was engaged in. The police department’s report of what occurred has never been publicly released. The city council, which is out of step with the mayor, is unlikely to confer the police chief’s position on Green, who may be privy to blackmail material the police department possesses relating to Valdivia and bribes being provided to him by the cannabis industry.
Huntley, who was previously the director of community and economic development and the director of planning and economic development respectively with the cities of Monterey Park and Montebello, came to San Bernardino in 2019 to succeed Mark Persico as San Bernardino’s director of community and economic development. Persico was fired in 2018, after he became knowledgeable about monetary payments being provided to Valdivia, then a councilman vying for mayor, by proponents of development projects in the city. Shortly after he recommended, as the city’s community and economic director, against the city approving one of those projects, a liquor store to be located on Inland Center Drive proximate to an off-ramp and on-ramp to the 215 Freeway, Persico was ignominiously terminated.
Huntley was hired under the presumption he would accommodate Valdivia’s campaign donors and consulting business clients whenever they had project applications with the city. He lived up to that expectation.
As community and economic development director, Huntley had a close-up window on the applicants seeking permits and licensing to operate marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana/cannabis production facilities, marijuana research facilities, medical marijuana dispensaries, wholesale marijuana distribution operations and markets selling marijuana for its intoxicative effect. Many of those applicants were plying Valdivia with money in exchange for his assurances he could get their permits and licenses approved.
In July 2020, Huntley facilitated an application by a Valdivia campaign donor, Greenleaf Engineering, for a temporary use permit to haul and dump concrete from a razed building in Redlands to a field next to Palm Avenue in north San Bernardino. The permit was granted in August 2020. The presence of the mounds of concrete became an issue with the residents in the area, who were demanding its removal. Huntley was accused of downplaying the seriousness of the circumstance by acquiescing in a characterization of the presence of the concrete as a “potential” hazard during public discussion of the matter at city council meetings. Treasure Ortiz, who is being promoted by a contingent of San Bernardino residents as a candidate for mayor in 2022, recently unearthed a declaration made by Huntley and filed with the Superior Court as part of the city’s efforts to abate the massive pile of concrete. In that declaration, Huntley stated, “[T]he unlawful conditions that I have identified on the subject property pose significant risk to the life, health and safety of the residential community within 1,000 feet of the subject property as well as the general public and must be abated immediately. In addition, the temporary use permit has been revoked; the materials are no longer authorized to remain at the subject property.”
On Wednesday, September 1, 2021, Ortiz filed a formal complaint with the city, accusing Huntley of purposefully misleading the public about the hazard the concrete represented. She had previously accused Huntley, as community and economic director, of mismanaging a federal program to provide San Bernardino residents with money to cover rent payments during the COVID-19 crisis. Huntley acceded to allowing one of Field’s associates to serve as the distributor of the funds. The designated distributor, however, had no office in San Bernardino. Because renters in San Bernardino had to travel to Moreno Valley to apply for and undergo eligibility vetting, $6.9 million in rent relief funding earmarked for San Bernardino has remained bottled up and not used for its intended purpose. Ortiz also maintains that Huntley actively assisted Valdivia, who was entitled to two appointments to the city’s downtown advisory commission, secure three appointments to that panel by falsifying a staff report. That change in the commission’s make up has delayed, she maintains, a crucial makeover of downtown from occurring, Oritz charged.
Within hours after Ortiz filed her complaint, Huntley tendered his resignation, the Sentinel was told.
The Sentinel is informed that Rebekah Kramer elected to leave as assistant city manager after being continuously pestered by Valdivia to take action she did not have proper authorization from the city council or the city manager to engage in.
Tickemyer, who was once perceived to be on relatively decent terms with Valdivia, reportedly fell out of grace with the mayor after he balked at bypassing normal contracting procedures so that companies that have shown generosity toward Valdivia in terms of the provision of campaign contributions were provided with construction and maintenance work at the city’s parks and recreation facilities.
While both Tickemyer and Kramer are gone for good, Brizuela has reportedly gone out on an extended leave of absence as an investigation into Valdivia’s use of city money for political purposes is ongoing. One report was that Brizuela had allowed her home address to be used to receive material paid for by the city’s taxpayers which was intended for use at what turned out to be a political event for the mayor following his state of the city address. Sources have said that Valdivia believes that if Brizuela lays low and is not available at her city office, she can avoid being questioned by those investigators.
-Mark Gutglueck

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