Bicycling Mishap Claims Former Upland Solon Thomas

Former Upland City Councilman and yet-serving San Antonio Water Company Board Member and West End Consolidated Water Company Board Member Tom Thomas on February 26 succumbed to extensive injuries he had suffered in bicycling accident he sustained on February 24.
Thomas’s political life and his death were both marked with irony.
An independent insurance agent, Thomas served on the Upland City Council for 20 years, from 1990 to 2010. During his tenure, he served on multiple regional and local boards and committees, including the Upland Library Board, the Upland Police Foundation Board, the Upland Sister City Association, the Upland Police and Fire Committee, the Upland Public Works Committee, the Upland Finance Committee, the Upland Community Redevelopment Agency Board, the Upland Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, the San Antonio Water Company Board, the Six Basins Water Master Board, the Pomona Valley Protective Association Board, the Water Facilities Authority Board, the West End Water Company Board and the Upland Community Foundation Board. He was instrumental in the creation of the Gibson Senior Citizens Center, the Estes Senior Citizen Apartments and the revival of the Grove Theater. He was involved in the development of McCarthy Park, the Upland Skate Park, the Upland Animal Shelter, Fire Station Number 164 and the restoration of Upland’s historic fire station. More than any of the other councilors during his tenure as an elected official he familiarized himself and concentrated on water-related issues and devoted himself to improving water system infrastructure and the quality and availability of water to the city and its residents.
Of the more than 250 regularly scheduled and specially-called council meetings during his two decades on the city council, Thomas failed to attend three of those, an attendance percentage of better than 98.8 percent, exceeding those of virtually every other elected official in the county.
Tom Thomas’s tenure on the council was marred by its coinciding, during its last ten years, with the mayoralty of John Pomierski. Ironically, one of Thomas’s most dynamic and daring political forays, which ended in defeat, would have, if it had proven successful, prevented Pomierski’s assumption of the mayor’s post.
First elected in 1990, Thomas was reelected in 1994 and again in 1998. In 2000, Mayor Robert Nolan opted out of seeking reelection. This threw the race for mayor wide open. Thomas and another council incumbent, Sue Sundell, declared their candidacies for mayor. For Sundell, the mayor’s race was do or die, as she had last been reelected to the council in 1996, such that in running for mayor she had to forsake running for reelection to the city council. If she failed to capture the mayor’s post, she would be off the council entirely. Thomas had the luxury of yet being a council member if he lost the mayoral contest. Competing with Thomas and Sundell in the race was John Pomierski, an Upland Housing Authority board member and licensed contractor. Pomierski was heavily supported by developmental interests, which pumped nearly fourteen times the amount of money into his campaign war chest than Sundell and Thomas combined expended in their electoral efforts. Ultimately, Pomierski, garnering 10,555 votes or 45.2 percent, prevailed over Sundell, who polled 7,801 votes or 33.4 percent, and Thomas, who captured 4,970 votes or 21.3 percent.
The 2000 Upland mayoral election ended Sundell’s career. Thomas, however, yet had two years remaining on the council term to which he had been elected in 1998. He remained on the dais when Pomierski was sworn in on December 11, 2000.
At that point, Thomas made a fateful decision. Despite having run against Pomierski and at that point representing the single strongest potential political alternative to the mayor in Upland, Thomas calculated that if you can’t beat your electoral opponent, you should join him. With tact, grace and humility, he congratulated Pomierski and committed to a continuity, peaceableness and decorum of governance in Upland that would follow the departure of Nolan as mayor. Thomas was not out of the mainstream in coming to that conclusion; like councilmen Mike Libutti and Ray Musser, who had been elected in 1998, and Councilman Ken Willis, who had first successfully run for the council in 2000 while supporting Sundell in the mayor’s race, Thomas closed ranks behind Pomierski, a 1972 graduate of Upland High School who promised a business-friendly environment in Upland that would bring about what he said was economic rejuvenation. Pomierski bought his four council colleagues Upland High School letterman jackets to match his own, forming “Team Upland,” what was, at least temporarily, a unanimous ruling coalition on the council.
In short order, the beguiling and manipulative Pomierski, who had been backed by deep-pocketed developmental interests, came to dominate the city council, forging an alliance with all of the council’s members, including Thomas, despite having bested him in the just-concluded race, and Willis, whose political ally Sundell had been consigned to political retirement by Pomierski. In his initial years in office, Pomierski also formed a bond with Ray Musser and Michael Libutti.
Early on, Pomierski was shaking down those with interests in the decision-making process at City Hall, and pocketing bribes. Despite widespread whispering about what was going on, Pomierski held his unanimous political coalition together. In May 2002, Libutti, a prosecutor with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, was elevated by Governor Gray Davis to the bench as a replacement for retiring Judge Lou Glazier. Thereafter, the support network around Pomierski promoted another attorney, Brendan Brandt, who was the son of Barry Brandt, another establishment attorney from Upland, to replace Libutti.
Developmental interests had united behind Pomierski because of his readiness and ability to force, cajole or simply invite the other members of the Upland City Council, who collectively held the city’s ultimate land use authority, to accommodate those developers’ designs with regard to obtaining building entitlements. Pomierski served as a conduit of political donations originating with those developmental interests to other politicians. This formed the basis of and strengthened the bonds of Pomierski’s coalition.
That Pomierski counted among the members of his coalition a deputy district attorney who would subsequently become a judge and another accomplished lawyer lent the political machine that the mayor had constructed around himself an air of invincibility, enabling him in his ability to demand payments, payoffs, kickbacks, quid pro quos and bribes from those dependent upon arrangements being made at City Hall to get their contracts, franchises or projects approved.
By 2004, Ray Musser, who had been reelected in 2002 with support from Pomierski’s fundraising team, had come to fully understand the ethos that Pomierski embodied, and he broke with the mayor, challenging him for reelection that year. Musser put on a spirited contest, making issue of the depredations Pomierski was engaged in, the pay-for-play nature of his politics and his bribetaking in exchange for votes. Musser’s campaign appealed to a significant cross section of the Upland electorate, and he had the solid support of members of the community who recognized what Pomierski was doing. Musser came relatively close to unseating Pomierski, capturing 46.08 percent of the vote. But Pomierski’s substantial fundraising superiority allowed him to run an energetic campaign, which gave him 53.72 percent of the votes cast, with 0.2 percent going to write-in candidates.
Willis, on the strength of his incumbency and aided by the campaign funding and other assistance provided by Pomierski and those with an interest in keeping the mayor’s machine intact, was reelected in 2004 as well.
After the 2004 election, Musser found himself persona non grata on the council, as Pomierski had grown to become the uncontested regent of Upland. Thomas, Brandt and Willis adhered to whatever line Pomierski dictated, and the quartet worked in consonance to render Musser into a political irrelevancy. For anyone paying attention, it was hard to not notice what was actually going on, particularly when March 2005 rolled around, and then-City Manager Mike Milhiser was prevailed upon to leave before Pomierski had to line up the votes to fire him. Instead, Pomierski sealed Milhiser’s lips with a $200,000 severance package. Two weeks later, then-Police Chief Marty Thouvenell, reading the writing on the wall, retired. Pomierski brought in Robb Quincey as his handpicked city manager to replace Milhiser. At Pomierski’s behest, Quincey made an in-house promotion of Captain Steve Adams to replace Thouvenell as police chief, at which point Upland declined into an unbridled graftfest. Pomierski arranged for Quincey, who was hired with a $250,000 salary and modest benefits, to be eligible to receive a percentagewise salary and benefit increase commensurate with any increase granted to members of the police department, including both line officers and management. Contract negotiations with the police officers’ union and the police management union were entrusted to Quincey. Thereafter, Quincey granted both the police officers and their superiors – sergeants, lieutenants and captains – as well as himself a combined eight pay raises in less than five years. This corrupt arrangement bought the police department’s silence and inaction with regard to Pomerski’s bribetaking while Quincey’s total annual compensation by January 2011 climbed to $460,625, consisting of a base salary and add-ons of $368,529 with benefits of $92,096, making him the third highest paid city manager in the state, despite the consideration that Upland was California’s 108th largest city population-wise.
At that point, the only conceivable check on Pomierski was the contrarian and politically-outmuscled Musser. Willis, Thomas and Brandt deeply resented Musser over his incurable habit of speaking openly about Pomierski’s dishonesty and the pay-for-play atmosphere the mayor was subjecting the city to, recognizing that such utterances made the community look bad and themselves look worse, since Pomierski was instrumental in helping them raise campaign funds or simply transferred money out of his own campaign war chest to theirs. Pomierski employed Willis as his pit bull to hold Musser in line. While Willis had no hesitancy of verbally confronting Musser in public and chastising him for refusing to follow Pomierski’s orders, Thomas and Brandt tended not to verbalize their disapproval of Musser’s defiance, simply expressing themselves by silently glowering at him or shaking their heads whenever he voted against the majority or sought to float a proposal that had not previously met with Pomierski’s approval.
Thomas, Musser and Brandt were due to stand for election in 2006, and all three did. Pomierski expended money from his political war chest to assist Thomas and Brandt and finance hit pieces intended to dissuade the city’s voters from supporting Musser. In a field of seven candidates, Musser finished in first place with 10,331 votes or 23.87 percent, which demonstrated that a minority but still significant segment of the population stood with him in the recognition of the depravity of the Pomierski regime. Brandt finished second with 9,718 votes or 22.45 percent, followed by Thomas with 9,467 votes or 21.87 percent. All three remained on the council.
In 2008, Musser again made a quixotic challenge of Pomierski. With only a fraction of the money Pomierski possessed, Musser was not able to mount as effective of a campaign against the mayor as he had four years previously. Pomierski was simultaneously able to count on the support and endorsement of other local politicians such as the mayors and council members of nearby Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana and Montclair, along with the county district attorney and sheriff, not to mention Thomas, Brandt and Willis. Pomierski won the 2008 election even more convincingly than the 2004 contest, with 15,971 votes or 57.4 percent to Musser’s 11,853 votes or 42.6 percent.
His 2008 victory emboldened Pomierski further, and he involved himself in violations of the public trust beyond what he had heretofore dared. Just a month after his reelection, he cozened the Upland Planning Commission into allowing Old Mark’s Church on 18th Street between Euclid and San Antonio to be set up as a private imbibing station where he could indulge himself in multiple nightcaps before driving, unmolested by the Upland Police Department, the roughly seven blocks to his home on West Westridge Court. When asked about the arrangement, Thomas, unwilling to be publicly heard or seen engaging in anything critical of the mayor, said he saw no problem in someone having a celebratory glass of wine now and again.
It was never clear whether Thomas understood that Pomierski was engaged in violations of the public trust or whether he was simply constitutionally incapable of recognizing that someone who had achieved the status of mayor and whose function as a public official was inextricably bound up with his own position as an honored member of the community could be involved in the despoliation that was Pomierski’s stock-in-trade.
Pomierski generated so much money through payoffs, kickbacks and bribes that he was able to channel a good deal of that revenue to his associates and confederates and still have enough left over that he could essentially discontinue most of his actual legitimate function as a builder, instead using his company, JP Construction, to launder the ill-gotten proceeds he was receiving. With Quincey covering for him at City Hall, the Upland Police Department bought off and his political alliance with San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, Pomierski seemingly had nothing to worry about.
In June 2010, however, the FBI showed up at City Hall with search warrants and for nearly a day, eight FBI agents, three IRS agents and two federal forensic computer analysts occupied the city’s offices, seizing documents and downloading data off of computer hard drives. Simultaneously, the FBI agents raided Pomierski’s home, the office of JP Construction and the homes and offices of his business associates Jason Crebs and Anthony Orlando Sanchez, the owners of Venture West Capital. Venture West Capital had dealings with JP Construction. The FBI also served search warrants upon John Edward Hennes, one of Pomierski’s appointees to the Upland Building Appeals Board, at Hennes’ home and office. Over the next seven months a progression toward the eventual federal indictments of Pomierski on political corruption and bribery charges and of Sanchez, Crebs and Hennes for abetting Pomierski in demanding, receiving and concealing bribes played out. Eventually, in 2012, Quincey would be charged by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office with felony engaging in a conflict of interest through fraud by a public official, felony misappropriation of public funds and perjury. Ultimately Pomierski, Crebs, Sanchez and Hennes were convicted of the federal charges and Quincey was convicted on state charges pursuant to a plea arrangement worked out by his attorney.
A little less than five months after the 2010 FBI raid on Upland City Hall, Thomas, Brandt and Musser were due to stand for reelection to the city council. All three ran in race that attracted five candidates. Musser cruised to a comfortable first place finish with 10,878 votes or 25.09 percent, aided by the adverse publicity attending Pomierski in the aftermath of the FBI activity and the widespread knowledge that Musser had been the lone personage standing up to the corrupt mayor. Brandt managed to hang on to his council seat, capturing third place with 9,259 votes or 21.35 percent. Both Brandt and Thomas were outdistanced by newcomer Gino Filippi, who gathered 9,398 votes or 21.67 percent. Thomas, after 20 years in office, was out, having been undone by his association with Pomierski.
When Pomierski was obliged to resign just a few days ahead of his 2011 indictment, it was Musser who was appointed to replace him as mayor. Belatedly, Musser was rewarded for having courageously stood against Pomierski for more than seven years and having run against him in uphill battles that could not be won given the amount of money – both illegal in terms of bribes and kickbacks and legal though ethically and morally questionable in terms of campaign contributions from the development community – that Pomierski took in to fuel his electioneering machine in 2004 and 2008. Neither Thomas, who had run for mayor in 2000 but had fallen short, nor Brandt, who coveted the mayoral title but did not have the courage to stand up to Pomierski though he most assuredly knew what he was up to, would ever lay claim to the Upland mayor’s gavel. Brandt opted out of seeking reelection to the council in 2014.
Even though he had been voted off the city council in 2010, Thomas managed to hold onto two vestiges of the prestige, power and position that came with his being a councilman. While on the council, he volunteered to serve as the city’s representative on the San Antonio Water Company Board as well as the West End Consolidated Water Company Board. His council colleagues acceded to his willingness and bestowed those appointments on him. Thomas brought himself up to speed with regard to water issues generally and intimately familiarized himself with the city’s water operations, which involve nine city-owned wells, as well as the function of both the San Antonio Water Company and the West End Consolidated Water Company.
The San Antonio Water Company provides water to San Antonio Heights, the unincorporated county area just north of Upland, and it also provides water to the City of Upland, which is a 70.66 percent owner of the San Antonio Water Company. The San Antonio Water Company obtains water by means of diversions from above-ground streams in San Antonio Canyon and seven wells, utilizing two booster pump stations that send water through 21 miles of pipeline to three reservoirs.
The West End Consolidated Water Company, of which the City of Upland is a 91.18 percent owner, also supplies water to the City of Upland. The West End Consolidated Water Company has four active wells and two currently inactive wells.
Despite the way in which Thomas had aligned himself with Pomierski during the ten years the two were on the council and the fashion in which Thomas had consistently sided with Pomierski over Musser whenever differences arose between them, Musser, upon becoming mayor did not hold a grudge against Thomas, and allowed him to remain as a member of the San Antonio Company Water Board and the West End Consolidated Water Board, even though Musser did have the authority to remove him had he chosen to do so. Musser was elected mayor by the city’s voters in his own right in 2012 and opted to not seek reelection in 2016. Debbie Stone, who succeeded Musser as mayor, likewise allowed Thomas to remain as a board member with both water companies. Bill Velto, who defeated Stone in the 2020 election, did not remove Thomas from those positions either. He was yet a board member of both when he died.
There are some who see in Thomas’s passing further “proof” of a so-called Pomierski curse. In January 2021, just shy of the ten-year anniversary of Pomierski’s federal indictment, Willis, then 75, died. In August 2021, Brandt, 56, who had gone to Ventura to run in the Beachfront Half Marathon, intending to use it as a tune-up for the Boston Marathon, had reached the roughly the four-and-a-half-mile point on the 13-mile course when he collapsed. A physician who was running near him immediately began chest compressions. Paramedics who arrived shortly thereafter continued similar ministrations as the former councilman was transferred to a hospital. Brandt, who had suffered a massive heart attack, was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Others dismiss suggestions that a Pomierski curse exists, pointing out that all three of the councilmen who enabled the disgraced former mayor for so long lived full and intense lives that were, in one way or another, fraught with hazard.
Willis was a Vietnam War veteran.
Brandt literally ran until he dropped.
Thomas, 68, an avid cyclist, typically rode a bicycle between 60 and 100 miles a week, covering somewhere in the neighborhood of an estimated 141,440 miles in the last 34 years.
The athletic Thomas gravitated to cycling in his mid-30s after his playing days on the gridiron in high school and college had come to an end more than a decade previously and after his knees began to rebel against his dedication to running.
His passion for the sport, which kept him in excellent physical condition, was a dangerous one that in the end proved his undoing. Thomas was conscious of that danger, which was impressed upon him just two weeks after he was elected to the city council in 1990. On that occasion, he collided with a vehicle driven by an operator who miscalculated Thomas’s downhill speed of more than 30 miles per hour and turned in front of him, resulting in his suffering a cracked vertebra, dislocated hip and broken ankle, necessitating that he be sworn into office while he was yet in a cast and motivating on crutches. As a councilman, Thomas sought to make biking safer, at least within the neck of the woods where he had sway and authority. His advocacy for bike lanes in the City of Gracious Living put it at the forefront of what then became a trend elsewhere in San Bernardino County. Moreover, he was a prime mover in the effort to establish what became the Pacific Electric Trail, the 21-mile bike route now running from Rialto to near the Claremont/La Verne border. The trail is an eco-friendly pathway on the footprint of the original Pacific Electric Railway easement used primarily for walking, running, bird watching, and biking. The Upland span of the trail was the first portion of the major regional recreational amenity that was opened. Thomas was also a founder of the Tour de Foothills, an annual biking event in Upland first begun in 2005.
Thomas brushed aside observations and warnings about the danger of biking and statements to the effect that the more miles and time on the road that a bicyclist puts in, the more likely that his number would come up. To assertions by motorcyclists and others that many vehicle operators simply do not see the bicycles and motorcycles they share roads with and that bicycles lack the acceleration capability that will allow a rider to maneuver quickly out of harm’s way, Thomas responded that he took adequate precautions, always wearing a helmet and a bright neon reflective jersey, and that he had outfitted his bike with lights and reflectors visible from both the front and the back.
As it turned out, Thomas’s demise ironically came when, as he was at a near standstill on Monte Vista Avenue in the left turn lane waiting to turn east on Richton Street near the Montclair Transit Center, he was blitzed by a motorcyclist who did not see him.
“Tom left a huge footprint in the history of Upland and he will be deeply missed,” his brother, Jim Thomas, said.
“I’m saddened by Tom Thomas’s passing,” said councilwoman Janice Elliott. “I had several opportunities to work with Tom, and his wisdom, kindness, knowledge, his respectfulness always impressed me.”
Mayor Bill Velto said, “Tom was a husband, a father and a grandfather, a leader in this community, a steadfast friend to many and a trustworthy business owner. Our community is better and in a better place because of Tom’s contributions. We thank him for those.”
Thomas graduated from Culver City High School in 1971. After achieving his bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1976, he continued employment he had already begun as a loss control representative at the Industrial Indemnity Corporation. In 1978, he began working with CNA Insurance as a loss control representative. In 1980, he signed on with Tokio Marine Management, again as a loss control representative. In January 1983, he began as a broker and agent with Insurance Incorporated of Southern California, selling commercial insurance. In June 1983, he became president of that company, remaining so for 38 years and eight months.
He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church.
He is survived by his wife, Ann Shriner Thomas, and three daughters.
-Mark Gutglueck

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