By Mark Gutglueck
Congresswoman Norma Torres was hoodwinked into arranging a federal clean energy grant for the City of Fontana that elected city officials there intend to use to defray the partial cost of a no-bid energy efficientization contract intended as a payoff to an entity who has committed to bankroll their political campaigns and retire their electioneering debts, Torres’ staff has acknowledged.
Torres did not know, the Sentinel was assured, about Fontana’s previous history in opting out of the open bidding process so that contracts for three clean energy projects were given to a developer favored by the city council majority.Torres, the member of the House of Representatives in California’s 35th Congressional District, on November 22 announced that six of the cities that fall within her Inland Empire district and both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties were being allocated $2.75 million in clean energy grants. The funding is being provided through the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, which supports the development of clean energy projects across the nation to cut pollution, lower energy costs for families, and help reach a federal goal of the United States cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. As a consequence of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Torres championed, a total of $550 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant grants is being distributed nationwide.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is supercharging America’s clean energy future, and with these latest investments, we’re delivering on our commitment to lower costs, cut pollution, and build a healthier future for people in the Inland Empire,” Torres said with enthusiasm at the time. “With the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, local governments as well as tribal communities in California are now one step closer to reaching their clean energy and energy efficiency goals, and I look forward to working with local officials to deliver on these game-changing projects.”
Previously in Fontana, Mayor Acquanetta Warren and her ruling coalition on the council have steered three energy efficiency project contracts worth a combined $9.4 million to Alliance Building Solutions, using a loophole in California law that suspends the requirement that public agencies and governmental entities use an open bidding process on contracts for capital projects if the project pertains either to increasing energy efficiency or can be demonstrated to have saved the agency/governmental entity on energy costs. According to those within Fontana’s governmental structure, Mayor Warren and her allies on the council deliberately used this loophole so that Alliance Building Solutions could be awarded the contracts in question despite the consideration that there were other companies offering the same energy efficiency upgrades at a lower cost than Alliance Building Solutions.
This bypassing of the open bidding requirement was choreographed, the Sentinel was told, by former San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus, who has reinvented himself as a lobbyist and political fixer and is acting as what was variously described as a “cut-out” or “go-between” to convey money from Alliance Building Solutions principal Brad Chapman to Mayor Warren and the other decision-makers on the Fontana City Council, money intended to “grease” the mayor and council and thus facilitate the provision of the no-bid contract to Alliance Building Solutions. In essence, the Sentinel is told, the monetary installments originating with Chapman being delivered to the mayor and council members through the laundering process involving Postmus are quid pro quos, bribes paid in return for the approval of the energy efficientization projects.
Because of Torres’ intercession, Fontana was given the largest portion of the money reserved for the 35th District’s cities. The City of Pomona was provided with $188,070; the City of Fontana, $230,640; the City of Montclair, $76,320; the City of Chino, $147,470; the City of Ontario: $218,330; the City of Rialto, $151,580. San Bernardino County received $393,590 and Los Angeles County was given $1,344,700.
Elements within Fontana City Hall have informed the Sentinel that Warren and the council intend to utilize the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program in combination with other money available to the city to enter into another no-bid contract with Alliance Building Solutions.
Congresswoman Torres did not learn of Fontana officials’ plans for the questionable routing of federal money she had obtained for the city to Alliance Building Solutions until this week, members of her office said. In the immediate aftermath of learning what was in the offing, she was unwilling to make any public statement, while her staff sought to formulate some sort of official reaction. Her staff balked at saying anything whatsoever, beyond insisting the Congresswoman had no previous understanding of how Fontana was planning to use the funds. In this way, the Sentinel was told, publicity that implied she had been duped or hoodwinked, while not of the sort the Congresswoman wants to have her constituents read about in the press, was preferable to coverage that implies she knew what purpose Fontana would put the money to or that she was aware of the previous arrangements by which Alliance Building Solutions were awarded no-bid contracts.
Torres’ office spokesman, Justin Krakoff, accepted questions this week as to whether there was any requirement put into the grant award that the contracts to be paid for by the grant must be ones that use an open-bid process and, if there was no requirement put into the grant award that the contracts to paid for by the grant must be ones that use an open-bid process, that upon scrutiny of the situation, the Congresswoman is now intent to add a condition to the award by which any contracts to paid for by the grant must be ones that use an open-bid process.
Krakoff did not respond by press time.
Fontana City Manager Matt Ballantyne told the Sentinel that he was not on top of what was going on with Fontana’s reception of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program grant, an indication the matter was being handled between a lower level staff member and the city council.
“I am not familiar with the energy block grant you are referring to,” Ballantyne said. “I have not met or spoke to Bill Postmus or Brad Chapman. I do support seeking multiple proposals/bids.”
By Mark Gutglueck