By Mark Gutglueck
As much as any political entity in San Bernardino County and far more than most, the West Valley Water District Board of Directors has over the last nine months undergone an orientational, organizational and compositional change.
Despite its size and status among far larger local governmental organizations and its relatively confined function, over the last five years the West Valley Water District has proven to be the most politically contentious governmental operation in San Bernardino County.
The dynamics of the relationship between two of the district’s leaders, which began amiably enough but devolved into a bitter enmity and power struggle, dominated the district. As of last month, both of those personalities have left.Clifford Young, who in 2004 served an abbreviated stint on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, was arguably the region’s most influential African American Republican. An educator and administrator at Cal State San Bernardino, Young was elected to the West Valley Water District Board of Directors in 2013. One of his neighbors was Mike Taylor, a Baldwin Park policeman who had risen to the position of that police department’s chief. He, too, was a Republican. Taylor, at Young’s suggestion, ran for the West Valley board in 2015, but was unsuccessful. The board oversees the district, which provides water to some 80,000 residents in portions of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, Bloomington and northern Riverside County. In 2017, with Young seeking reelection to the board, he joined forces with Taylor in a combined election campaign that proved successful for both.
In the aftermath of the 2015 departure of the district’s general manager, Anthony “Butch” Araiza, who had guided the district for two decades, Young had sought to assert his leadership. The election of Taylor, with whom he was aligned, made it possible, at least initially, for Young to achieve his goal. Less than month after the election and even before Taylor was sworn in, the two – alpha male types both – sought to make the district over into their image. Initially each cooperated with and went along with the other’s designs.
Young, Taylor and their two Republican allies on the board, Greg Young (who is no blood relation to Cliff Young) and Kyle Crowther, moved at once to purge the district of those who had earlier obstructed Clifford Young’s agenda, those being District General Manager Matthew Litchfield; Assistant General Manager Greg Gage; the district’s human resources manager, Karen Logue; the board’s secretary, Shanae Smith; and Chief Financial Officer Marie Ricci. The only Democrat on the board, Don Olinger, had been the lone dissident in those sackings.
Taylor, for his part, was able to obtain to key appointments/hirings at West Valley that fit his intentions: the hiring of Baldwin Park City Attorney Robert Tafoya as the district’s general counsel as well as of Baldwin Park City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco into a lucrative and essentially do-nothing assignment as one of the district’s assistant general managers.
For a time, there was a honeymoon between Young and Taylor as they erected their empire, one in which public money provided by ratepayers and taxpayers could be used to intensify cronyism and assist in achieving political objectives unrelated to the district. But inevitably, fissures in their relationship widened, and less than a year after Taylor’s election he used his Republican ally on the board – Crowther – to form a crossover alliance with the sole Democrat on the board – Olinger – to depose Young as board president and insert himself into that position. From that point on, Taylor began to exploit his leadership position to hire into existing and newly created district positions political functionaries such as then-Hesperia City Councilman and one-time San Bernardino County Republican Party Executive Director Jeremiah Brosowske. While serving in those sinecures – as in Broswoske’s case assistant general manager – Taylor’s allies were able to engage in a host of activities supporting the political advancement of those aligned with Taylor. Simultaneously, those high-paying positions would be used as rewards to others who had engaged in past efforts to advance the agenda of Taylor, his allies and the San Bernardino County Republic Party machine in general.
Meanwhile, Young stewed. Eventually he launched a rare qui tam lawsuit against Taylor, alleging a sophisticated network of interconnections within the district involving bribes, graft, payoffs and corrupt practices.
Young was never able to regain his position of dominance in the district. Meanwhile, Taylor militated to strengthen his hold. He, however, was undercut by multiple considerations. His efforts during the 2019 election season to defeat Clifford Young’s ally on the board, Greg Young, and support of his Democratic ally on the board, Olinger, both failed. Brosowske’s political career imploded with his 2019 removal from the Hesperia City Council by his colleagues, and revelations about the sinecure he had been given at West Valley led to his being force out of that post. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney began closing in on Pacheco, who was forced to resign from his post as a councilman in Baldwin Park. Pacheco has since been convicted of bribetaking and began cooperating with the feds, including revealing questionable practices as West Valley during his tenure there. Revelations from the qui tam lawsuit brought by Young stunted Taylor’s further political progression.
In quick succession early this year, both Crowther, because he was moving out of the state, and Cliff Young, based on his wife’s death and his own health challenges, tendered their resignations from the board and were replaced, respectively, by Angela Garcia and Kelvin Moore.
In July, Taylor left Rialto to move to Arkansas. The board moved to replace him with Dan Jenkins.
While municipalities in California cannot have a majority of their individual town or city councils composed of appointed officials, according to the water district’s special counsel, an appointment was in order because elections law, the state water code and the California Government Code is not as restrictive with regard to board appointments as is the case with municipalities.
Neither Clifford Young nor Mike Taylor remain a factor in the West Valley Water District’s governance.
By Mark Gutglueck