By Mark Gutglueck
For the first time in Yucaipa’s 33-year history, discontent with its political leadership has reached a point where there is sufficient motivation among residents for them to mount an effort to remove members of the city council from office.
While recall efforts often confine themselves to a single member, the action under way in 55,496-population Yucaipa is targeting three of its current leaders, including the mayor, its longest-serving current member and one of its most recently elected councilors.
Despite the unmistakable discontent an activated segment of the city’s residents have toward the troika of Mayor Justin Beaver and councilmen Bobby Duncan and Matt Garner, as well as the relative advantage recall proponents picked up with the city’s division into five voting districts in 2016, those looking to remove the three from office still face an uphill battle in first qualifying recall questions against the officeholders and then in convincing a majority of an often-apathetic and disengaged electorate to make a radical change in the city’s governance.
Primary factors in the recall movement consist of the long-established status of former City Manager Ray Casey, the inconsistency in Beaver and Duncan’s attitude toward Casey, the sudden turnaround Beaver and Duncan evinced with regard to Casey earlier this year, the swiftness and secretiveness with which Beaver, Duncan and Garner acted in forcing Casey’s departure and the continuing secrecy the city has sought to maintain about what motivated the council majority to bring about Casey’s exit due to the standard confidentiality that is maintained with regard to governmental personnel matters and decisions. The situation was exacerbated by what appears to have been miscalculations on the three council members’ parts as to the hold Casey had on a good portion of the Yucaipa establishment. A 1981 graduate of Princeton University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, Casey worked in the private sector as a project manager for a construction company for three years and then from 1985 until 1991 was employed by Manitou Engineering in Escondido as a consulting engineer. In 1991, he began his career in the public sector as the principal engineer in the City of Temecula’s land development department. He departed California to go to work for the Isabella County Road Commission in Michigan as that entity’s highway engineer and road commission manager. He was lured back to California, where he was employed as the development services deputy director and city engineer with the City of San Bernardino. In 2003, he left San Bernardino to become the public works director and city engineer with Yucaipa. In 2008, Casey was promoted to city manager.
Throughout his tenure in Yucaipa up until his last few weeks there, Casey was highly thought of by the majority of his political masters on the city council, and for the most part, he managed to steer the city around any major areas of controversy. Indeed, any missteps the city took during his tenure, to the degree such were made, were largely ones by members of the council rather than city staff. He was generally perceived as being competent, and his training and experience as an engineer heightened his value to the city.
Casey served on the League of California Cities’ Inland Empire Executive Committee for three years, the League of California Cities’ Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee for three years and he was the chairman of the City/County Manager Technical Advisory Committee for two years.
Greg Bogh, who had been on the city council since 2010, and David Avila, who was first elected in 2014, opted out of running for reelection last year. Both had developed a strong working relationship with Casey and considered it in the city’s best interest to ensure the retention of his services. With the November 2022 election approaching and the uncertainty over how the attitude on the council as a whole might change with the election of two new members, Bogh and Avila pushed to have the council as it was then composed consider giving Casey a bit more job security. In October 2022, Bogh, Avila, Duncan, then-Councilman Beaver and Councilman Jon Thorp unanimously voted to extend Casey’s contract at least until June 30, 2024 and provide him with a 3 percent salary increase that would jump his salary to $299,420, such that he would be making $422,901.50 in total annual compensation, putting him among the 25 highest-paid city managers in California.
To all appearances, it seemed, based on that vote, that Beaver and Duncan were wholeheartedly in favor of keeping Casey at the head of Yucaipa’s management team. In actuality, however, both Beaver and Duncan had gone along with Bogh, Avila and Thorp on the issue because they recognized that even if they dissented, they would not prevail. So, rather than antagonizing Casey, they made a show of unanimity.
In the November 8, 2022 election, Mark Garner managed to finish first in the race to represent Yucaipa’s First District, just ahead of second place finisher Sherilyn Long and well ahead of Mark Taylor and Erik Sahakian, who captured third and fourth place. Chris Venable captured first place in the Second District contest, defeating Nena Dragoo by a comfortable margin. In this way, Garner replaced Avila on the council and Venable supplanted Bogh when they were sworn into office in December.
Just a month after the newly composed council had been seated, on Monday night, January 9, 2023, more than two dozen alarmed and agitated residents, having been alerted by two items on the agenda for that evening’s city council meeting, were on hand in the city meeting chamber. Those items read, “Public Employment Pursuant To Government Code § 54957 – Performance Evaluation, Dismissal, Appointment. Title of position: City Manager” and “Public Employment Pursuant To Government Code § 54957 – Performance Evaluation, Dismissal, Appointment. Title of position: City Attorney.”
Word had spread that Casey and City Attorney David Snow were about to be axed.
Anxious members of the crowd, many of whom had come with the intention of talking the council out of the action those residents were led to believe its members were going to take, were met with what most immediately dismissed as a cover story: that Casey had tendered his resignation, willingly. For many, that was problematic, as Casey had, less than three months previously, accepted a generous and lucrative contract extension to keep him around for at least another year-and-a-half.
Despite the secrecy and confidentiality that is supposed to surround governmental personnel decisions, either through body language or leaks, members of the public on hand knew that it was Beaver, Duncan and Garner who were taking aim at Casey and Snow. Among those who sought to dissuade Beaver, Duncan and Garner from what they were intent on doing were former Planning Commissioner Denise Work, Kathy Sellers, Caecelia Johns, Robin Miskin, Kevin Miskin, George Sardeson and former Yucaipa City Councilman Dick Riddell.
The council then adjourned into a closed session, accompanied not by City Attorney David Snow but by an attorney, Stephen Graham. Outside the earshot or scrutiny of the public, the city council in that closed session voted 3-to-2 vote, with councilmen Venable and Thorp dissenting, to accept Casey’s resignation, effective January 31. The council voted 5-to-0 to sack City Attorney David Snow.
The council further voted to 5-to-0 to hire Graham as city attorney, effective immediately, during that closed session and voted 4-to-1, with Thorp dissenting, to hire Chris Mann, the chairman of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors to serve as city manager, effective March 1.
Mann and Graham were at that point the city manager and city attorney with the municipality of Canyon Lake. With Graham on hand for the meeting and Mann in the City Hall parking lot during the meeting, there were immediate accusations of a violation of The Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law. The Brown Act prohibits a quorum of an elected governmental body or an appointed governmental body with decision-making authority from meeting, discussing any matter to be decided or voted upon or coming to a consensus in any way about a matter to be voted upon. The Brown Act allows less than a quorum of an elected body – as in the case of the five-member Yucaipa City Council, two members – to meet and discuss some contemplated action to be voted upon, but it prohibits either of those two members from engaging in a “serial” meeting of a quorum, whereby one of those members then separately meets with another member to discuss the upcoming action or vote.
Residents who were opposed to what they saw as Casey’s forced departure reasoned that a Brown Act violation had to have taken place, as Graham was on hand for the meeting before he was hired as city attorney and, likewise, Mann was on the civic center grounds, in anticipation of the action the council ultimately took.
Although Beaver, Duncan and Garner might have reasonably anticipated the hefty resistance they encountered to jettisoning Casey even before the vote and an even more intense reaction after they did so, remarkably, they did not. Both Beaver and Duncan resisted making hurried and extemporaneous remarks in reaction to the hostility of the crowd that night, instead calmly putting out a press release in which they justified the action the council majority took and beamed about the talents of Mann and Graham.
“Following an election this past November in which the voters of Yucaipa elected two new members to the city council, the council is taking decisive action to move Yucaipa forward,” Beaver stated. “The council’s first step involved making changes to the city’s executive leadership team.”
Alluding to Mann’s status as the president of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors and knowledge of the community based upon his residence in the city, Beaver said Mann “has the right relationships to help our city work collaboratively throughout the region for the benefit of Yucaipa residents.”
“This is a big win for our city,” stated Councilman Duncan in the press release. “We need new eyes on this city to effectively tackle recent budget challenges, organizational issues, and to aggressively address rising crime and homelessness. We were able to bring on a proven leader who is already invested in our community because he lives right here in Yucaipa, saving the city tens of thousands of dollars a nation-wide search would have cost local taxpayers. What’s more, we found someone who will take a business-minded approach to the job of running the day-to-day operations of our city, yet someone who also has an abundance of local government experience.”
When that did not assuage the hopping mad residents who had come to the meeting, the next morning Shane Massoud, the city’s public information officer, followed up with another press release. In that narrative, Beaver was quoted as saying, “We truly appreciate and recognize the significant contributions of Mr. Casey during his service to Yucaipa. Over the past almost 20 years, Ray worked with a number of city councils to make tremendous progress toward evolving our community, continually improving quality of life for our residents while enhancing public safety.”
That acknowledgment of Casey’s contributions taken together with the consideration that his contract had been previously extended heightened resentment over what city residents had come to recognize was his forced leaving and resulted in even greater questioning of the council majority’s motives and actions.
The common policy of confidentiality that attends issues relating to public agency personnel issues prevented the emergence of a clear picture of what went into the sudden change in senior staff at Yucaipa City Hall. It was disclosed that the city had conferred a “generous” severance package on Casey, though the precise amount of that parachute was not made public. This was to be in addition to the pension he is eligible to receive under the California Public Employees Retirement System. Reports, which have not been confirmed, circulated that Casey had been provided with a $300,000 buyout of his contract. If the city’s taxpayers are to pay Casey that kind of money, many residents asked, why didn’t Beaver, Duncan and Garner not simply keep him in place until his contract expired? Why, they asked, is the city double-paying – to Casey and Mann – for the services of a city manager when only one can hold the post at a time?
In addition to the aforementioned Work, Sellers, Johns, the Miskins, Sardeson and Riddell, other local residents, including Shirley Dalton, Colleen Wang, Lloyd Wekstad, Kathleen Woolsey, Lenore Will, Diane Smith, Kristine Mohler, Ramona Etheridge, Jamie Hilliwig, Dan Crain, Steve Freeman, Linda Roberts-Ross, Scott Riley, Jill Kowalski, Teri Boon, Jo Sutt, Matt Underwood, Hansen Wang, Sherry Todd, Martha Glubka, Ann Hartung, Joel McCabe, Arthur Walter and Johanne Dyerly went on record over the next two months as questioning the rectitude of Casey’s ouster.
In the same timeframe, Nyles O’Harra expressed support for Mann. Graham reported publicly that no improprieties had been turned up in a background investigation the city had conducted on Mann. Ray Snodgrass and Cesar Roldan supported the council majority and Mann.
In the face of the expressed outrage over Casey’s exit and Mann’s hiring, Beaver, Duncan and Garner said Mann had waived the separation provision of his contract.
Beaver, Duncan and Garner sought to maintain brave faces in the midst of the growing controversy. Though they were bound by the requirement that they attend city council meetings twice monthly, and during those meetings they were subject to all means of public comment that called into the question the wisdom, rationale and legality of their action on January 9, they did not engage with the public in a dialogue about their motives in substituting Mann for Casey and Graham for Snow, seeking to ride the contretemps out. For three months, Beaver, Duncan and Garner spurned repeated requests from the Sentinel to spell out in detail the reason for their decision and action with regard to Casey and Snow and to articulate why they were entrusting the leadership of the city to Mann and seeking legal guidance from Graham. Beaver, Duncan and Garner consistently spurned those requests.
Questions and doubts about what had occurred festered.
Exacerbating the circumstance was Mann’s history as a pro-development political operative.
Mann is the principal in Mann Communications, which is touted as a stable of “public relations strategists.” On its website, Mann Communications celebrates itself, essentially, as a representative of developers and development interests seeking to move building proposals past the planning process and get them approved.
According to the narrative on the firm’s website’s specialization page, “Elected officials are facing increasing public pressure to vote against development of all types. As a result, it is more important than ever that officials are provided the political cover they need in order to support good projects. Mann Communications has extensive experience gaining positive results for our land use clients through aggressive government, media and community relations programs. Having worked with large international and Fortune 500 companies, the experts at Mann Communications provide our clients with a wealth of knowledge and experience and a winning approach to land use entitlement.”
That page continues, “In addition, Mann Communications Principal Chris Mann has been an active partner in numerous development projects in California, Nevada and Arizona. Having worked both as an elected official and as a developer, he uniquely understands the development process from both the public and private perspectives. Understanding the practices and motivations of each side better than most, he is able to provide tremendous value to the entire development process, making Mann Communications an invaluable member of any project team.”
Among Mann Communications clients or former clients are the AES Corporation and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, Inc., residential developers Lennar, Pardee, Meritage Homes and Richmond American, builders Holland Development, Jacobsen Family Holdings, Turner Dale, Rotkin Real Estate Group, Carlton Properties, Clear Channel Outdoor, BrightSource, Preferred Business Properties Real Estate Services, Beaumont Garden Center, Passantino Andersen, Robertson’s Cement, Oakmont Industrial Group, The Golshan Group and Desmond & Louis Incorporated.
It was widely recognized that Casey had an intense and intimate understanding of the need for matching any incoming development with adequate infrastructure, the cost for which had to be defrayed either by the developer or the city’s taxpayers and that he was capable of serving as not only an honest broker between pro-development and anti-development forces and sentiments within the community but advocating for and insisting that project proponents be financially responsible for the infrastructure and off-site improvements that must accompany their development. With his forced exit, there arose an instantaneous perception that Beaver, Duncan and Garner had ditched him in favor of Mann, who would have the city adopt an absolute open-door planning and development process by which the city’s largely rural nature and status as, depending how it is thought of, either the fourteenth most dense or the tenth least dense of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities would be obliterated. Moreover, there was concern that Mann might transfer the financial responsibility for infrastructure provision from construction project applicants to the city’s taxpayers. There is a strong current of sentiment for preserving that element of Yucaipa’s rural nature that yet exists within the city, and to a sizeable portion the city’s residents, it appeared that Beaver, Duncan and Garner were trying to pull a fast one.
Word spread that Mann, who lives in Yucaipa and held an elected position on the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board before he resigned that post to take on the city manager’s position, had utilized a political action committee which was used to compose and mail “hit pieces” attacking candidates in last year’s municipal races, in particular, Long and Dragoo.
On April 17, the City of Yucaipa held a special public hearing to consider the Serrano Estates Project, to be located in the area referred to as the North Bench, along the east side of Yucaipa Ridge Road, north of Ivy Avenue, directly adjacent to Quartz Street and Crystal Street. The project site, consisting of undeveloped property, bears Rural Living or RL-1 zoning, which calls for single family homes on lot sizes of at least one acre. The property falls within Yucaipa’s Custom Home (CH) Overlay District, in which cookie-cutter subdivisions typical of urban areas are discouraged. The area is likewise surrounded by low density zones.
There was a large-scale presence of residents opposed to the project at the meeting.
The Serrano Estates Project, put forth by Premium Land Development, was proposed as a planned development that is to be based on a preliminary development plan and parallel tentative tract map for 51 single family residential lots on minimum 12,000-square foot parcels with an average size of slightly over 20,000 square feet. According to Premium Land Development Principal Craig Heaps, 41 of the 51 lots will be age reserved for sale to those 55 years of age or older.
In what turned out to be the first major project under the guidance of Mann, the city’s planning and community development division allowed the project to be considered by the city council using a mitigated negative declaration to complete the environmental review process.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act, most development projects are subjected to an environmental certification process. Some types of environmental certification are more intensive than others, ranging from an environmental impact report to an environmental impact study to an environmental assessment to an environmental examination to a mitigated negative declaration to a negative declaration.
An environmental impact report, the most involved type of environmental analysis and certification there is, consists of a comprehensive study of the project site, the project proposal, the potential and actual impacts the project will have on the site and surrounding area in terms of all conceivable issues, including land use, water use, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, and biological and cultural resources. An environmental impact report specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts. A mitigated negative declaration falls near the other end of the scale, and exists as a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project, by which the panel entrusted with the city’s ultimate land use authority, as in the case of Yucaipa either its planning commission or the city council, issues a declaration that all adverse environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated, or offset, by the conditions of approval of the project imposed upon the developer.
Some Yucaipa residents questioned whether Mann leaving it to the city council to simply declare that all impacts from the project had been adequately mitigated, based both on the nature of the project and the consideration that the city council lacked land use and environmental expertise, was a sound decision, and some suggested Mann was actively militating on behalf of Premium Land Development.
At previous public hearings where the project had been considered, it had not fared terribly well. On August 17, 2022, the planning commission considered giving approval to the development plan, which failed on a vote of 3-to-4. An appeal of that rejection went to the city council, as it was previously composed, on September 12, 2022. The council refused to override the planning commission, but held out to Premium Land Development and Heaps the prospect of allowing the project to be altered and resubmitted. On March 15, a slightly revamped version of the project was given planning commission go-ahead on a 4-to-3 vote.
Some residents have suggested that Premium Land and Heaps have not lived up to either the spirit or the letter of the one-acre lot minimum inherent in RL-1 zoning with the way the Serrano Estates proposal calls for containing twelve of the acres on the project’s “Lot 52” and designating another 13 acres as “permanent open space” on which vineyards and other landscaping will be set. In this way, the critics said, the 51 developed lots will actually be compressed on 27 acres, such that the lots now being developed will be more like 23,061.17 square feet or 0.529 of an acre. This leaves open the possibility that in the future, when memories have faded and there have been personnel changes on the city council, Premium Land and Heaps will come in with another proposal to develop the 12-acre Lot 52 or perhaps the combined 25 acres consisting of Lot 52 and the area’s open space.
The overwhelming majority of the public speakers at the April 17 special meeting went on record against the project, including former Planning Commission Chairwoman Denise Work and former Planning Commissioner Dennis Miller. Only two public speakers expressed support of the proposal.
Heaps, meanwhile, insisted, “This is not a high-density project. This is 51 homes on 52 acres, no matter the size of the lots. It is not high density.”
Beaver, perhaps mindful that he was already on thin ice because of the Casey sacking, joined with Councilman Jon Thorp in opposing the project.
Councilman Duncan, who is active in the real estate industry, appeared in favor of the project from the outset. Councilmen Garner and Venable came across as somewhat ambiguous with regard to the project. Garner used the rationale that the California legislature and the California Department of Housing are reducing local jurisdictions’ autonomy over land use and that if the project was not approved as proposed by Premium and Heaps, a more intensive land use with greater density on the property could be imposed on the city. “The biggest issue I have is what could happen if this thing doesn’t get passed,” Garner said. “That’s what scares me. I don’t want to develop in the North Bench either. But we gotta do something. What scares me is … what happens if this thing doesn’t get passed?”
Chris Venable, whose election last year was boosted by the hit pieces against his opponent that Mann’s political action committee put out, insisted “I’m not on his team. I’m not on nobody’s team. I’m my own person.” He acknowledged that some developers are bullies. Nevertheless, he said, “Honestly, this project does make sense to me because I can see big developers and stuff like that are coming.”
Venable, Garner and Duncan approved the project.
Some suggested that Beaver was in support of the project as well, but that he voted against it in the knowledge that it had three votes without his support.
That, for a segment of Yucaipa’s citizenry, was the last straw. On April 24, Sherilyn Long representing residents in District 1, Steve Maurer, representing residents in District 3, and George Sardeson, representing residents in District 4, came to Yucaipa Hall, where they filed a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions against Garner, Duncan and Beaver.
The Sentinel sought to speak with Beaver, Duncan and Garner after the intent to recall documents against them were filed. Beaver and Duncan did not respond.
Garner told the Sentinel that reports the three engaged in a Brown Act violation by conspiring to fire Casey were way off the mark.
“What those guys are saying is completely false,” Garner said. “Before I was elected, we talked about Ray Casey. They wanted to get him out and they talked about it. After I got elected, we never spoke again about it. When the time came where it was to go to a vote, Justin Beaver talked to Ray Casey. Ray Casey decided at that time to retire. I voted yes on his retirement contract and I also voted to terminate the city attorney.”
Garner declined to delve into the issues relating to Casey’s performance that formed the basis for the decision to ease him out of the city manager’s slot.
“I can’t comment on Ray Casey or his performance because I did not really know him and as a member of the council I am not allowed to comment on personnel issues,” Garner said. “All I can tell you is the guy retired and he was given a retirement package, which was a good one, and we did terminate the city attorney.”
Garner said that ultimately it was Casey’s decision to retire. He insisted that Casey had not been fired.
Mann, Garner said, was hired because he was qualified for the position.
“Justin [Beaver] and Bobby Duncan are the two that talked to Chris Mann,” Garner said. “I met him when he was the chairman of the water board. I met him before I was elected. I like the man. I liked him a lot, but after I was elected, it was those two who spoke with him and they were the ones who made a decision to go with him and first made the proposal to hire him. I supported that decision. I think he is a great city manager. I respect him.”
The council is not alone in its positive appraisal of Mann and what he brings to the table, Garner said.
“The lead union member of our city employees spoke highly of Chris Mann at this week’s council meeting,” Garner said. “A lot of other employees came into the city chamber and supported Chris Mann. The morale among city employees is extremely high and apparently it wasn’t before. Our city attorney is an outstanding guy. I highly respect him. I deal with a lot of attorneys and he is probably one of the best attorneys I have seen. He is very good at what he does. Anyone who knows him respects him. No one is disappointed in him or his level of expertise. Yes, we voted for this change, but I think it was time for a change.”
The Sentinel, noting that Garner has disputed the accuracy of the assertions of the recall proponent’s allegations against him, the mayor and Councilman Duncan, asked what about the charges against him is false.
“Everything,” Garner replied, “Everything they are saying is untrue. The situation has spun out of control. It’s all lies. They are slandering and defaming our names. There is no proof of us doing anything they are saying. They are saying we broke the law. They are accusing us of violating the Brown Act. I say, ‘Prove it.’ We never did anything and they can’t prove we did. Why? Because we never did what they are saying we did.”
Garner said those intent on removing him from office are subsisting on a diet of sour grapes.
“Sherilynn Long lost the election,” he said. “She is upset that she lost. She’s mighty upset. She’s pissed. She’s not a very nice person and her husband is not a very nice person. He has physically threatened my treasurer. He has also threatened to kill his neighbor’s dog. He was in the chamber and he heard something he did not like and he started calling the mayor a punk and using all kinds of foul language. This is what we are up against. We had to call the sheriff’s lieutenant to escort him out of the chamber and as he did, he poked Chris Mann and threatened him with everyone looking on. There are a lot of extremely angry and hate-filled people because they lost the election. Are they that mad over losing an election?”
The issue is, Garner said, “We approved Ray Casey’s retirement contract and got rid of the city attorney and they didn’t like it. We made it happen pretty quickly, which is not a normal thing in Yucaipa. That sort of thing does happen in other cities. So, some people are pissed off on how we voted. They are mad at how we voted on a project on the North Bench. This week about 30 people from the North Bench came into the chamber, upset and pissed off and hateful. They are coming up with all sorts of wild things, going after Bobby Duncan and Justin Beaver and me. It’s all lies. Justin Beaver didn’t vote for the North Bench project. Chris Venable actually was the third vote to approve that project with me and Bobby Duncan, and now they are threatening Chris Venable because he voted for the project.”
Garner said the political atmosphere in Yucaipa is uncomfortable for him, Beaver and Duncan at present.
“Our town newspaper is one-sided,” he said. “The newspaper gives the North Benchers the front page to say whatever they want. They print whatever they say, and a lot of what they say is untrue. The editor is best friends with a lot of people on the North Bench. For us, it has been pretty bad. We have not been able to post anything. The newspaper constantly rejects our posts and we have not defended ourselves. There is not any truth to what they are posting about us. I have only been here a little more than four months and they are accusing me of all sorts of things that are not true and which I had nothing to do with.”
But one-sided attacks can only have so much efficacy, Garner said.
“We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I think that is because some people are starting to do their homework and are looking on our end of it and starting to hear our side. If you do your homework, you will find that what is being said is filled with lies. Slowly, the people of Yucaipa are starting to see the truth. We are supposed to keep our mouths shut. It is hard to be up on the dais and hear people saying what they are saying and you can’t say anything back. But others are starting to get our side out. I am just going to do the job I was elected to do, put my head down and work hard and let the cards lie where the cards lie.”
Those circulating the recall petition are required to include with it a statement from those targeted that responds to the reason given by the recall proponents for pursuing that officeholder’s removal.
According to Beaver, the grounds for seeking his recall are inadequate in that “Since my election in 2020 I have endeavored to fulfill every campaign promise I made. I have helped increase our law-enforcement staffing, I have helped create better communication by voting to approve the public information officer and government affairs coordinator positions, as well as vote to approve a first ever sunshine ordinance to increase transparency at City Hall. I have helped eliminate the fire services committee and establish a new public safety committee to focus on all matters of public safety affecting our city. I have continuously voted to oppose increased development and to bifurcate rural and urban Yucaipa.”
This is the first attempt in Yucaipa’s third of one-century history as an incorporated municipality to remove any of its city council members from office. Under California law, to qualify a recall against a city council member wherein the number of registered voters eligible to vote for that position total between 1,000 and 10,000, as is the case in all of Yucaipa’s council districts, the valid signatures of 25 percent of the current registered voters must be obtained. Because Yucaipa switched from an at-large voting system to a by-district system in 2016, qualifying a recall effort against a council in that city is now one-fifth as formidable as it was previously.
Given that District 1 in Yucaipa has 7,303 registered voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Garner, recall proponents must gather the signatures of at least 1,826 registered voters in District 1.
Given that there are 5,912 registered voters in District 3, to qualify a vote on recalling Duncan, recall proponents must gather the signatures of at least 1,478 registered voters in District 3.
Given that District 4 has 6,492 voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Beaver, recall proponents must gather the signatures of at least 1,623 registered voters in District 4.
Whether things auger well in favor of the recall proponents or Beaver, Duncan and Garner comes down to a set of conflicting and uneven, indeed unpredictable, factors.
Historically, in both California generally and San Bernardino County specifically, fewer than one fourth of the recall efforts that are initiated make it onto the ballot and fewer than one fifth of such efforts succeed in actually removing the individual targeted from office. Simply qualifying a recall for inclusion on a ballot is daunting, given the process and the rules for doing so. Not only is gathering the required number of signatures a challenge to start with, certain peculiarities in the law can complicate things. If, for example, a voter is registered simply with his first name and last name on his registration document and he signs the recall petition with the inclusion of his middle initial or middle name, that signature will be deemed invalid. Similarly, if a voter is registered with her middle name included on her registration document and she signs the recall petition without including her middle name or instead initializes it, her signature would not be counted. Those whose handwriting on the recall petition deviates from that on their signature cards will not be considered valid signers of the petition. Even if a signature is valid, if it can be demonstrated that the petition gatherer who obtained it is not an actual registered voter in the district in which the recall is being attempted, that signature will be thrown out.
Oftentimes, the intensity of initial outrage or motivation that leads to a recall effort fades with time, and such efforts die from a lack of steam. Even where sufficient animus toward a particular officeholder exists to bounce him or her from office, doing so within the six-month or 180-day deadline for gathering those signatures by a relatively small number of signature gatherers proves to be an insurmountable task.
The odds, it would seem, are with Beaver, Duncan and Garner as the recall effort begins.
Nevertheless, sentiment about what occurred on January 9 runs deep in Yucaipa. Anger toward the three is married up and blended with other issues, some of which dovetail with the forced exit of Casey. Even where the involved matters bear no relation to the Casey sacking, the ultimate effect does not bode well in favor of the trio, who have come to represent government authority that those subject to it consider lacking or insensitive or overbearing. If the recall proponents manage to catch those residents’ attention or imaginations, Beaver, Duncan and Garner may not be able to sustain the building momentum against them.
Given that each holds office, all three start from positions of relative strength.
In his maiden foray into politics in 2020, Beaver convincingly turned back the other candidate running for the Fourth District seat, Stacey Chester. Beaver polled 3,038 of 4,863 votes cast or 62.47 percent to Chester’s 1,825 votes or 37.53 percent. While it might be too much to read into that situation that he has the firm support of all of those who voted for him in a race where the electorate was choosing between two relatively unknown candidates, Beaver certainly starts out with more credits than debits from among those who will be called upon to determine his fate.
Duncan has been no stranger to controversy during his time on the council, which began with his election in 2012. Despite those controversies, he has consistently garnered the support of his constituents, initially when he was elected at large and now in his role as the representative of the city’s Third District. He attained 64.08 percent of the vote – 2,512 votes out of 3,920 cast – in 2020 while running against two opponents, Lee Kaberlein and Clifford Gericke, who managed 1,003 votes or 25.59 percent and 405 votes or 10.33 percent, respectively. It would seem that Duncan has a core of city residents who believe in his well-to-the-right-of-center political approach, despite the issues he takes up not being ones over which the members of the Yucaipa City Council have much control. His championing of Second Amendment rights and conservative Republican values has set him in good stead with a solid portion of the Yucaipa population, and that may provide him with a hedge against the recall group’s attacks, even if his support of a more aggressive development policy in the city clashes with the predominant sentiment of the city’s residents who would prefer to the see the city remain more rural than urban.
Garner is the shakiest among the three targeted for recall in terms of his past electoral performance. He won in November, but barely. With 1,353 votes of 3,802 cast in the First District or 35.59 percent, he outlasted his closest competitor, Sherilyn Long, who now is leading the recall effort against him. Long was nipping at his heels with 1,291 votes or 33.96 percent. Mark Taylor brought in 598 votes, which was good for 15.73 percent. Erik Sahakian captured 560 votes or 14.73 percent. In this way, Garner came into office with 64.41 percent of the vote going to his November opponents. Assuming the recall proponents can get before the First District’s voters the question of whether they want to remove him from office, he would be in a fight for his political life.
While Beaver referred to the elimination of the fire services committee and establishment of a public safety committee as a relative merit, there is not universal support among the city’s residents for the closing out of citizen input and oversight committees in Yucaipa. One such shuttering was the discontinuation of the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board. That entity had long served as a hedge against the runaway inflation of lease space cost escalation in the city’s mobile home parks, which are largely populated by senior citizens, many of those living on fixed incomes. While the elimination of the board was undoubtedly popular with the mobile home park ownership and management, it was definitely not appreciated by the residents of the mobile home parks, who vote in percentages well above their actual numbers. Many of those mobile home residents are elderly, disabled and financially challenged, and the opportunity to remove from elected office those who have acted to take away one of the layers of protection they possessed looms as one of the last chances they will have to express themselves, a statement they will be very likely to make.
The mobile home residents represent just one pocket of voters in Yucaipa who can be tapped by the recall proponents, who are now examining the political cross-pollination that took place between Mann’s political committee and the 2016 election of Mann to the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors, the 2016 municipal election when Duncan was elected to represent the city’s Third District, the 2020 election when no one manifested to challenge Mann for reelection, Duncan was reelected and Beaver elected; and last year, when both Garner and Venable were elected. The potential that the recall proponents will hit a resounding chord with a large number of city residents concerned that accelerated development will damage their rural ambiance and quality of life is quite real.
Still, the recall effort will not be concentrated on just one candidate but three, meaning three-fifths of the city’s voters will need to be targeted, which is not an insubstantial task.
Garner sounded optimistic in that regard.
“I don’t think they are going to be able to do all three districts at the same time,” Garner said. “I don’t think they have the manpower to do it.”
By Mark Gutglueck