Cucamonga Valley Water District Board Member Luis Cetina’s announcement of his candidacy for Second District supervisor in 2022 signals a set of behind-the-scene political developments at the county, several of which will not be publicly revealed for weeks or months.
The Sentinel has learned that Cetina has brokered a deal with incumbent Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford for her support in return for Cetina’s commitment to maintain the county employment status of the Second District supervisor’s current staff members.
Moreover, the deal between Rutherford and Cetina is an indication that an arrangement between Rutherford and Bob Dutton, San Bernardino County’s assessor-recorder-county clerk, in which they would mutually support one another in Dutton making a run for Second District supervisor next year and Rutherford running to replace Dutton as assessor-recorder-county clerk, is no longer operative.
Simultaneously, the accommodation between Cetina and Rutherford sets the stage for Rutherford’s former colleague on both the board of supervisors and the Fontana City Council, Josie Gonzales, making a run against Dutton next year. Meanwhile, up in the air are the potential Second District supervisorial candidacies of current Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, who more than a decade-and-a-half ago served on the Fontana City Council with Rutherford and Gonzales, as well as former Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez, who in 2020 ran a failed campaign for supervisor in the Fifth District.
Another open question is what is to become of Rutherford, who under San Bernardino County’s currently applicable term limit regulations is obliged to step down as Second District supervisor in 2022 upon the completion of her third term in county office, the first of which came in 2010 when she successfully challenged then-Supervisor Paul Biane. There is no readily apparent office up for election in 2022 for which Rutherford is considered to be an obvious candidate, although she yet has the option of seeking either of two state legislative offices, depending upon the final setting of district boundaries in keeping with the redistricting to occur in accordance with the 2020 U.S. Census.
For many, Cetina’s candidacy for supervisor was not anticipated. It has now been disclosed that Rutherford was instrumental in laying the foundation for his attempted transition from the water district board position he has held since 2012 by arranging for or serving as a conduit for $95,000 in donations to his recently-created supervisorial campaign electioneering fund.
In some measure, Rutherford is pinning her hope of remaining politically relevant on Cetina’s electoral prospect. At the same time, it appears she is risking, or at least potentially risking, a continuation of her relatively amiable relationship with Warren. It is publicly unknown at this juncture whether Rutherford undertook her arrangement with Cetina with or without having consulted with Warren ahead of time to obtain the Fontana mayor’s assonance in promoting Cetina for the supervisor’s post.
Warren is playing close to the vest what her future political intentions are. In 2002, she was appointed to the Fontana city council to fill the vacancy created when then-City Councilman Mark Nuami was elected mayor while he yet had two years left on his council term. Rutherford and Gonzales both supported Warren’s appointment to the council. Two years later, Warren won election and Rutherford was reelected to the council, and they were both reelected in 2008. In 2010, Rutherford ran successfully for supervisor and Warren unsuccessfully vied for the Republican nomination for Assembly in California’s 63rd Assembly District in that year’s June primary, thereafter in November running successfully for Fontana mayor, becoming the first African-American and the first woman to be elected to that post in Fontana’s then-58-year history. She was reelected in 2014 and in 2018. As of June 30 of this year, she had $560,000 in her campaign war chest, a sum which would start her off in an advantageous position if she were to run for Second District supervisor, and make here competitive if she were to seek state legislative office – either in the Assembly of California Senate – although she would be at a relative disadvantage to an incumbent or strong Democrat, given that any legislative district she ends up being in as a result of redistricting will have a substantially larger number of registered Democrats than registered Republicans.
Warren is a rarity – an African-American woman who has gained considerable traction as a Republican politician, as most officeholders of her gender and ethnicity are Democrats. Her political success in Fontana is remarkable, given that over 49 percent of the city’s voters are registered Democrats while registered Republicans hover around 20 percent, a contingent smaller than the 23 percent of the city’s voters who express no party preference. Those registered with the American Independent, Green, Libertarian, Peace & Freedom and other more obscure political parties account for the remaining roughly 8 percent of the city’s voters. Because the Republican Party in San Bernardino County is far better organized and more efficient than the county’s Democratic Party, Republican candidates generally throughout San Bernardino County fare better in elections than is reflected in their party registration numbers. Warren has been a beneficiary of the Republican Party’s ability to outcoordinate, outhustle and outcampaign its Democratic rivals in San Bernardino County overall and in Fontana specifically, where despite the Democrats outnumbering Republicans by a margin of almost five-to-two, four of the five members of the city council are Republicans. Joined by her three Republican colleagues on the council, Warren has dominated Fontana for a decade, and is a force to be reckoned with.
Armendarez, who was a major donor to local political campaigns and a then-member of the Fontana Unified School Board, was plucked from that position by Warren in 2016 to run for city council, which he did successfully, becoming a member of Warren’s ruling coalition. In 2020, without Warren’s blessing, Armendarez became the Republican standard bearer in the race to replace Josie Gonzales as Fifth District supervisor. Gonzales was termed out of that position after having served four four-year terms as supervisor, the last three of which were subject to term limitations following the passage of 2006’s Measure P, which raised supervisors’ salaries and benefits but thereafter reduced them to three elected terms. Warren’s preference was that Clifford Young, who as a member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors stands with Warren as one of the two most prominent African-American Republican politicians in San Bernardino County and who more than a decade-and-a-half ago served a short stint as the appointed Fifth District supervisor, run for the supervisorial position again last year. Armendarez jumped into the race ahead of Young against two Democrats, Colton Joint Unified School District Board Member, Dan Flores, who was Gonzales’s chief of staff, and Rialto Councilman Joe Baca, Jr., the son of the longtime former Congressman and California state legislator. Armendarez’s vaulting ambition ruffled Warren a bit, although she eventually came around, as was incumbent upon her as a Republican, to support him. Despite local district, municipal and county offices officially being by state law defined as nonpartisan, in San Bernardino County those contests invariably reflect a strong political party-affiliation orientation. The 2020 race was ultimately won by Baca. Armendarez, a successful real estate broker, remains, as does Warren, a local Republican stalwart, and he is a major contributor to Republican causes and campaigns. It is not altogether clear to outsiders whether there is a developing clash between Armendarez and Warren over each’s future political ambition, as in the case of their putative mutual interest in becoming Second District supervisor. The east portion of Fontana currently lies within San Bernardino County’s Fifth District, and the western side of the city falls within the county’s Second District. The county board of supervisors is contemplating, as early as next week, a redistricting plan that would place virtually all of Fontana within the Second District. If the supervisors indeed adopt that new district map, Armendarez will be eligible to run for supervisor in the Second District. If the new map leaves the east side of Fontana in the Fifth District, Armendarez would remain a resident of the Fifth District. Nevertheless, as a real estate agent with considerable financial means, Armendarez could in very short order move himself and his family westward across the dividing line between the two districts once the county concludes the redistricting process that will set the district borders from 2022 until 2032. Many anticipate that Armendarez, who spent upwards of $100,000 of his own money in funding his campaign for supervisor in the Fifth District last year, will make such a move, as the prospects for a Republican candidate in the Second District are so much better than in the county’s Fifth Supervisorial District, wherein 50.8 percent of the voters are registered Democrats, 18.7 percent of the voters are registered Republicans, 23.2 percent of the voters have no party affiliation and 7.3 percent identify as members of the less-well established American political parties.
Despite the consideration that the Second District, like Fontana, has more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, the Republicans seem to hold the upper hand in the entirety of the Second District in terms of getting its party members elected there. The Democratic-to-Republican disparity in the Second District is not as overwhelming in the Second District as it is in Fontana. At present, 41 percent of the Second District’s voters are registered Democrats and 30.6 percent are Republicans. On the city councils of all three of the Second District’s municipalities – Upland, Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana – as well as on the boards of the district’s several agencies such as school, water and utility districts, the lion’s share of the officeholders are Republicans. It is of note, therefore, that all of the aforementioned politicians with the exception of Gonzales – Rutherford, Dutton, Warren, Cetina and Armendarez – are members of the GOP.
Cetina makes an interesting case study in a politician.
He qualifies as something of a technocrat, having earned his bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with an emphasis on the environment from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He began working with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in 1986, serving as a surveyor, construction plan reviewer, water supply calculator and forecaster, and has graduated up the chain of command into the arena of legislative and policy analysis. Despite his training as an engineer, he has not been utilized by the Metropolitan Water District in that capacity. He is at present the principal governmental and regional affairs representative for the Metropolitan Water District, promoting water policy among government, joint powers authorities, chambers of commerce, and both private economic partnerships and public/private economic partnerships.
Cetina was elected to the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board of Directors in November 2012, eight years after the entity he was elected to represent had changed its name from the Cucamonga County Water District. He represents Division 4 within the district. He has served on the district’s water resources and government as well as its public affairs committees, and he represents the district on the Chino Basin Water Bank Planning Authority as that entity’s chairman. Further, he is the Cucamonga Valley Water District’s representative on the Fontana Union Water Company Board of Directors as well as on the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce. He was elected to the Association of California Water Agencies Region 9 Board of Directors in 2018, again in 2020 and will serve his third term through 2023. He also serves on that entity’s agriculture and water quality committees.
He is currently the vice chairman of the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board of Directors. Since his election to the board nine years ago, he has functioned with a knowledge regarding water issues and operations that has been well-contexted and grounded.
Like Armendarez, Cetina is a relatively uncommon example of a Hispanic Republican politician in California, where Latino registered Democrats outnumber Latino registered Republicans by nearly three-to-one and where Hispanic voters consistently vote for Democrats roughly 77 percent of the time. A member of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, Cetina has advocated for a more energetic GOP outreach effort toward Latino voters.
Despite his success as a politician, his assets and positive attributes and the faith that Rutherford is demonstrating in him by her support of his candidacy, there are several knocks against Cetina that might complicate his effort to get elected supervisor.
The first of these is that he has spent a large measure, indeed virtually all, of his professional life as a government employee. There is a cross section of the electorate, in particular Republicans, who feel that it is a mistake to have institutional government employees manning elected positions overseeing government. They use analogies such as monkeys running the zoo or inmates managing the asylum to illustrate the reality of what they consider to be double-dipping, wherein a government employee, who makes a living working for the government and enjoys the relatively high salary and far more generous benefits that are available to public sector employees than are available generally in the private sector for the same level of work, serves in the capacity of overseeing government. Those of this opinion hold that it is inadvisable to have creatures of government exercising control over the government, and that it is healthier to elect individuals from the private sector, which is regulated by government, as citizen legislators overseeing governmental entities since they understand how onerous government regulation can be.
A second derogatory regarding Cetina that dovetails with the first is that as a member of the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board he has consistently voted in favor or rate increases on the district’s customers, and has supported local government’s layering of more and higher taxes upon its residents.
This was exemplified at the October 13, 2015 meeting of the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board, at which Cetina joined with his board colleagues in passing Resolution No. 2015-10-1, a declaration in support of Measure A, a proposal put on the ballot by the Rancho Cucamonga City Council that year calling for a local tax increase to improve street lighting, parks and landscaping on the west side of the city. In order to get the measure passed, city officials had scheduled the vote for an odd-year election at which it was anticipated voter turnout would be limited and municipal officials hoped they could drive to the polls enough civic improvement supporters for the measure to prevail. This strategy called for drumming up support from as many other civic leaders as possible, including the board members of the water district. The water district board’s vote to endorse the tax increase antagonized a fair number of Rancho Cucamonga residents who were not only opposed to the tax increase but what they considered to be the city’s underhanded tactic of setting a vote on the matter during an off-year election season when few people were paying attention and only a fraction of the city’s voters participated in the vote. On November 3, 2015, Measure A was overwhelmingly defeated 77.97 percent to 22.03 percent, with 2,289 votes in support and 8,103 votes against it.
Many local Republicans have questioned whether Cetina embodies a purist Republican attitude with regard to minimizing the burden of the expense of government through the limitation of taxation.
Another criticism that is made of Cetina pertains to the action taken by the Cucamonga Valley Water District Board on October 27, 2015 to pass Resolution No. 2015-10-5, which moved the district’s elections to odd years, and, consequentially, skipped the election scheduled for November 2016. Cetina and his fellow and sister board members did this despite then-Governor Jerry Brown having signed, on September 1, 2015, nearly two months prior to the board initiating that action, Senate Bill 415, the California Voters Rights Participation Act, which was passed by the California Legislature earlier that year.
The California Voter Rights Participation Act required that in jurisdictions holding odd-year elections wherein there was lower voter turnout than in elections in the same area held in even-numbered years, the elections were to be moved to even-numbered years.
The full consequences of the passage of Resolution No. 2015-10-5 and the eventual enforcement of Senate Bill 415 was to confer upon all of the members of the water board, first, a one-year extension of what were then their current terms in in office, followed by yet another one-year extension of their terms in office when the law Senate Bill 415 put in place was enforced, such that Cetina and his board colleagues have now become beneficiaries of what is a two-year extension in office, two years in which they bypassed having to face the voters to hold elective office. As a consequence, Cetina and his colleagues on the board are looked down upon by many for what is perceived as a shifty gaming of the democratic process.
A fourth aspersion cast at Cetina consists of his pattern of reluctance to engage with his Cucamonga Valley Water District constituents as well as the public served by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in the face of inquiries about both of those district’s policies and/or controversies they have become embroiled in. This unwillingness to interact with the public has manifested despite Cetina occupying a position with the Metropolitan Water District, that of governmental and regional affairs liaison, and being on the public affairs committee with the Cucamonga Valley Water District, positions in which it is incumbent upon him to be responsive to public inquiries. Cetina has eschewed interaction with the public despite his serving on the board of the San Gabriel Valley Public Affairs Network. Indeed, even before the COVID-18 crisis led to sequestering and isolation of personnel, it was virtually impossible for anyone outside of the Metropolitan Water District to have direct personal or even telephonic contact with Cetina at his workplace, with the only practical means of connection to him being by email. Cetina has a poor record of responding to such emails.
Cetina, in general, comes across as being averse to confrontation and controversy, and is unwilling to be engaged when topics stray into arenas about which there is sharp or even subtle public disagreement.
In an apparent effort to overcome the degree to which he has been limited to being employed exclusively in the public sector during his professional life, Cetina has endeavored to involve himself in certain activities meant to shore up his reputation or credentials with the private sector and the business community. He is the chairman of the Gateway Chambers Alliance, a member of the San Gabriel Valley Legislative Coalition of Chambers, a Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce board member and an active participant in the Inland Empire Chamber Alliance.
Despite repeated attempts by the Sentinel to locate Cetina and speak to him directly, phone messages left for him at the Metropolitan Water District office as well as on his cell phone and emails sent to his Metropolitan Water District and Cucamonga Valley Water District addresses, Cetina has not responded to questions relating to whether he believes his lack of experience in the private sector might hamper him in serving as supervisor as well as questions relating to his vote in 2015 as a water board member to shift the electoral schedule of Cucamonga Valley Water District board members in such a way that it provided him and his colleagues with what is a two-year extension in office during which he and they did not need to be answerable to the district’s constituency.
The Sentinel sought to reach Rutherford’s campaign consultant in the 2018 election, Matt Rexroad, who is rumored to be lined up to assist Cetina in his electoral effort next year.
“I don’t even know who that is,” Rexroad said.