In the normally staid hamlet of Yucaipa, where for the better part of a century life has progressed at a steady pace and the intensive political bickering that has from time to time surfaced in many of San Bernardino County’s other municipalities even as creeping urbanization has made its presence felt, the veneer of civility has been vitiated.
While there is little dispute over what the ingredients of the social and institutional donnybrook that has beset the city are, both sides are intensely contesting – some say manufacturing – a narrative of what it was precisely that triggered the now deeply apparent cultural divide.
The fight, essentially, is over which side represents the establishment – the true establishment – and which constitutes the outsiders.In prehistory, the Yucaipa Valley with its fertile soil watered by springs and creeks running out of the San Bernardino Mountains, supported a large population of Serrano Native Americans. Spanish settlers were likewise attracted to it and after Mexico obtained independence from Spain, it became part of the 35,509-acre Rancho San Bernardino land grant to José del Carmen Lugo and José María Lugo, Vicente Lugo, and their cousin, Diego Sepulveda. The latter established the Yucaipa Rancheria in 1842, which began the area’s long history as a series of cattle ranches, some of which were maintained by San Bernardino County historical figures John Brown Sr., James W. Waters, and the Dunlap family after the Rancho was sold to Mormon Settlers in 1851. Thereafter, in the nearby Oak Glen heights of the San Bernardino Mountain foothills, the Parrish, Wilshire, Rivers, and Law families established apple orchards, most of which survive to this day.
Until the middle of the 20th Century, Yucaipa’s cattle ranches flourished, and the operators of one of those were the Jewish industrialist brothers Ruben and Lester Finkelstein. Over the years, the town of Yucaipa came into existence with the commercial district confining itself to a relatively narrow corridor around Yucaipa Boulevard as it wound its way toward the San Bernardino Mountains, with most of the rest of the city remaining as a rustic agricultural district or residential neighborhoods. It also became something of a retirement community, as a good number of older residents flocked to live in a host of mobile home parks that came to dot the landscape.
In 1972, while Yucaipa was still an unincorporated community, Crafton Hills College, built on 484 acres of ground donated by the Finkelstein Brothers opened. In this way, Yucaipa had become something of a combination of Old West, worldly, agricultural, mercantile, semi-rural and urban influences. In 1989, the city incorporated, the 22nd of the county’s current 24 municipalities to do so.
Throughout its first 33 years of existence, the city’s political leadership, for the most part, strove to keep the city’s Old West, worldly, agricultural, mercantile, semi-rural and urban influences in balance. City officials – the city council and city staff – maintained a degree of stability throughout that time, demonstrated in the relatively low turnover on the city council and among employees at City Hall. For example, Dick Riddell, who was elected to the city council in 1994, remained on that panel until 2020, when he was defeated by Jon Thorp in his effort at being elected to the council representing District 5 upon the city transforming to council districts. Just before he left office, Riddell was then the second-longest serving elected official in San Bernardino County.
From the outset and as is yet the case, Yucaipa did not and does not directly elect a mayor, but rather entrusts to the city council to choose from among its five members the individual who will be given that honorific. Such an arrangement had held in check, if not limiting entirely, any overt and accentuated show of egotism among the council members, as all, it seemed, evinced a show of cooperation and protocol by which the mayoralty would be shifted or rotated among the team in a cordial fashion as each member of the council remained in place long enough to master parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order.
With only a few rare exceptions, those elected to the council remained in place generally for as long as they sought to, with most electing to leave after two to three four-year terms, as the city’s voters generally approved of the direction the council has taken the city in during the now third-of-a-century existence of the city government. Thus, with the exception of a few individuals, such as Riddell, city council members did not grow into institutions themselves but did become Yucaipa stalwarts who were nearly universally looked up to.
At the city staff level, as well, there has been relative stability. Typifying this was Ray Casey, the immediate past city manager.
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.
In October 2022, the city council consisted of Greg Bogh, who had been in office since 2010; Bobby Duncan, who had been on the city council since 2012; David Avila, who was first elected in 2014; and Jason Beaver and Jon Thorp, who had been on the council since 2020. Bogh and Avila had opted out of running for reelection and were not on the following month’s ballot. There was, though it was not apparent to the public, uncertainty within the city council over how the attitude on the council as a whole might change with the election of two new members. As it stood, there had been an excellent working relationship between Casey and Bogh, Avila and Thorp and seeming cooperativeness between Casey and Duncan and Beaver. With the November 2022 election approaching and the uncertainty over how that voting might go, Bogh and Avila felt it would be in the city’s best interest to ensure the retention of Casey’s services and at the last meeting in October they pushed to have the council as it was then composed consider giving Casey a bit more job security. The council 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 annual salary to $299,420, such that he would be making, when his benefits and perquisites were consider, $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, Matt 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 showed up for that night’s council meeting because they were concerned that Casey and City Attorney David Snow were about to be axed, having been alerted by two items on the agenda for that evening’s city council meeting relating to the performance evaluations of both.
Despite efforts by multiple anxious members of the crowd to talk the council out of the action those residents were led to believe its members were going to take, they were met with the assertion that Casey had tendered his resignation, that in that evening’s closed session Beaver, Duncan and Garner had accepted that resignation and the entire city council had voted to give Snow the heave-ho.
During that closed session, the council was accompanied not by Snow but by another attorney, Stephen Graham. In the course of that closed session, the council voted to 5-to-0 to hire Graham as city attorney, effective immediately, 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 outside of a public forum. 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.
If Beaver, Duncan and Garner anticipated no or only mild objections among the public to jettisoning Casey, they grossly miscalculated. A press release they put out in which they justified the action the council majority took and beamed about the talents of Mann and Graham rang hollow for a large number of Yucaipa residents, particularly given that the release referenced the November election in which Beaver and Duncan noted that “the voters of Yucaipa elected two new members to the city council” and that “the council is taking decisive action to move Yucaipa forward” by “making changes to the city’s executive leadership team.” One of those newly elected council members, Chris Venable, had not gone along with sacking Casey, residents noted, and less than three months previously, Beaver and Duncan had voted to keep Casey in place for another year-and-a-half.
The intensity of outrage at Casey’s firing did not, as Beaver, Duncan and Garner hoped, abate over the next several weeks. Rather, it appeared to intensify.
One public relations misstep followed another as the three members of the council sought to evade the growing wrath of their constituents.
In seeking to explain why the trio had settled on Mann as city manager to replace Casey, Beaver alluded to Mann’s status as the president of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors, referenced Mann’s knowledge of the community based upon his residence in the city and asserted Mann “has the right relationships to help our city work collaboratively throughout the region for the benefit of Yucaipa residents.”
Almost simultaneously, it was pointed out that Mann is the principal in Mann Communications, which according to the company’s own website functions in the main as a representative of developers and development interests seeking to move building proposals past the planning process and get them approved. Mann Communications specializes in, according to the firm’s website, making sure that “elected officials are… provided the political cover they need in order to support good projects” to “provide our clients with a wealth of knowledge and experience and a winning approach to land use entitlement. 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.”
Highly troubling to many Yucaipa residents was that Mann, even as he was working as the city manager of Canyon Lake, overseeing the regulatory process of that city’s land use decision-making and planning functions, he was simultaneously working for and accepting money from developmental interests, the very entities he was supposed to be regulating. Yucaipa residents needed to go no further than Mann Communications’ website to glimpse those development interests – residential developers Lennar, Pardee, Meritage Homes and Richmond American, builders Holland Development, Jacobsen Family Holdings, Turner Dale, Rotkin Real Estate Group, Carlton Properties and AES Corporation, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, Inc., 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 not lost on a wide cross section of Yucaipa residents that Duncan was a real estate agent. Previously, on a city council made up of individuals embodying a variety professional classes, allowing the real estate industry a seat at the table was not perceived as being problematic. What it looked like at that point, however, was that Duncan had put Mann in place to boost the prospect of more and more development in Yucaipa, in turn increasing his ability to sell houses and make money.
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 efforts. Casey, it seemed, had gotten into somebody’s, or several somebodies’, way. 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 would come under increasing threat and the balance that had long been maintained between its Old West, worldly, agricultural, mercantile, semi-rural and urban influences was to be discarded and replaced by subdivision after subdivision that would make Yucaipa indistinguishable from scores or even hundreds of other cities in Southern California that are now composed, practically, of wall-to-wall houses.
Uncharitable word spread to the effect that Beaver, Duncan and Garner were in the pocket of the development industry and that they were on the take.
Throughout February and into March and then April, a core group of Yucaipa residents who were caught flatfooted in January when Casey’s resignation materialized as a fait accompli, began coordinating a response that they were hopeful might reverse the momentum that was threatening to slide the entirety of the city into what was for them a deep and dark abyss.
On April 17, the first major test of what developmental standards the City of Yucaipa will live up to under Mann’s guidance as city manager took place when the city council 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.
Some residents have suggested that the official proponent of the project, Premium Land Development, and Premium Land’s principal, Craig 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.
The city council, nonetheless, found persuasive Heaps’ insistence that “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. Duncan and Garner joined with Venable in giving the project a thumbs up.
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.
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, respectively.
To the extent that Beaver, Duncan and Garner now represent the current establishment in Yucaipa, the establishment has hit back at the recall proponents with uncommon virulence.
Generally speaking, recall efforts in California are rarely successful. That is because the bar to qualify a recall question against officeholders in the Golden State is very high. 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. The consideration that Yucaipa switched from an at-large voting system to a by-district system in 2016 makes qualifying a recall effort against a councilmember in that city one-fifth as formidable as it was previously. Recall proponents, nevertheless, face a daunting task.
Given that District 1 in Yucaipa has 7,300 registered voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Garner, recall proponents must gather the signatures of at least 1,825 registered voters in District 1.
Given that there are 5,913 registered voters in District 3, to qualify a vote on recalling Duncan, recall proponents must gather the signatures of at least 1,479 registered voters in District 3.
Given that District 4 has 6,489 voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Beaver, recall proponents must gather the signatures of at least 1,623 registered voters in District 4.
Even as the pro-recall group is arraying its forces, those seeking to prevent Beaver, Duncan and Garner from being removed from office have undertaken action designed to deflate the recall effort. That is notable from the standpoint that in most cases, recall efforts burn out on their own. 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.
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. In the last decade, recall efforts that were initiated in San Bernardino County included ones in Upland, Fontana, Victorville and Hesperia. All came to naught.
Initially upon the filing of the intent to circulate recall petitions in Yucaipa, those aligned with Beaver, Duncan and Garner circulated an open letter ostensibly addressed to those who signed the intent to circulate the recall petitions but which were distributed to voters throughout the city, making the point that “Your personal information was obtained from the Yucaipa/Calimesa News Mirror [Yucaipa’s local newspaper]. This information was published by the Save Yucaipa Coalition after you signed a petition of ‘Notice of Intent to Recall’ for one of our councilmen. Your name and signature is now available to anyone anywhere this newspaper is distributed. It also means your information can be shared with others on the internet who may not have your best interest in mind. You should have been advised of this legal requirement before you signed the petition. Were you?”
The letter’s intent, it appears, is to dissuade any of the city’s voters in the Garner’s District 1, Duncan’s District 3 and Beaver’s District 4 from signing the petition lest they, too, have their personal information compromised.
“Protect yourself,” the letter states. “Don’t allow your personal information to be made public. Don’t trust your personal information to a group of people who are misleading the citizens of Yucaipa and appear to be negligent with the security of the information they collect. There is no basis in truth to any of the accusations being made against our city councilmen. There are a lot of embellishments and opinions, but no truth to them. The statement on the petition you signed is false. When you placed your signature on the petition you endorsed a false statement on an official document.”
The letter further states, “Save Yucaipa Coalition is using the services of Chris Robles, a far-left political operative. Mr. Robles has served as the San Bernardino County Democratic Party Central Committee chair [i.e., chairman]. He was removed from this office for violating his own party’s rules.”
Connecting the recall effort with a Democrat follows from the consideration that Yucaipa overall is one of the most heavily Republican areas in San Bernardino County in terms of voter registration. Of the city’s 33,967 voters, 16,154 or 47.6 percent are Republicans and 8,757 or 25.8 percent are Democrats. Another 6,001 voters or 17.7 percent have no party affiliation, while 8.9 percent of the city’s electorate are members of the American Independent, Green Libertarian, Peace & Freedom or other more obscure parties.
In District 1, 3,741 or 51.2 percent of 7,300 voters there are registered Republicans, with 1,704 or 23.3 percent registered as Democrats. In District 3, 2,382 or 40.3 percent of 5,913 voters are Republicans and 1,790 or 30.3 are Democrats. In District 4, 3,065 or 47.2 percent of 6,489 voters identify with the Party of Lincoln and 1,688 or 26.0 percent affiliate with the Democrats.
More recently, the supporters of the three members of the city council under attack co-opted the support of Ana Sauseda, who in March was promoted to the position of city clerk under Mann, replacing Kimberly Metzler, who had been the city clerk under Casey.
In her capacity as city clerk, Sauseda, represented by the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm and its attorneys Bradley W. Hertz and Eli B. Love, filed suit in the form of a writ of mandate in San Bernardino County Superior Court against George Sardeson, Cheryl Sardeson, Frances Fields, Frances Finely Fields, Debra Wilson, Robert Otto, Daniel Wilson, Bonnie Farris, Edwin Morgan, William Cooper, Sara Cooper, Debra Studley, Dennis Studley, April Klein, William Klein, Jean Kielhold, Jamie Peterson, Kenneth D. Rolf Jr., Janis Waltman, Lori S. Waltman, Jimmy Distler, Jennece Distler, Rickey Chanter, Lawrence Anderson, Helen Anderson, Kent Miller, Lloyd Rekstad, Patricia Smoll, Donald Saenz, Cheryl Saenz, Thomas Powell, Bonita Powell, Katina Mohler, Kristine Mohler, John Mohler, Robert Henderson, Sandra Henderson, Frank Jubala, Patricia Jubala, Thomas Ziech, Timothy Ryan, Elizabeth Grimes, Scott Smith, Lois Crosby, Gayle Crosby, Lyndi Norkin, Sergey Norkin, Valarie Peterson, Margaret Padron, Baltimore Padron Jr, Jim Peterson, Susan Wamsley, David Knopp, Brenda Knopp, Johanne Dyerly, Stephen Dyerly, Patricia Teeters, Kali Spillmann, Kent Spillmann, Marissa Ryan, Brynn Hoffman and Christopher Hoffman, in their capacities as the official proponents of the effort to recall Yucaipa City Councilmember Justin A. Beaver; and against Steven Maurer, Randy Bogh, Chelsey Lauren Bogh, Edmer Salazar, Mana Manasuk, Linda Simpson, Judith Fink, Nelson Fink, Carol Price, Robert Price, Garold Beecham, Robert Montee, Steve C. Martin, Steve A. Martin, Elizabeth Martinez, Telesforo Martinez, Virginia Flores, Willam Crosby Mecham, Quentin Ray Leenstra, Bryan Jovanny Acencio Munoz, Charles Howard Hopson, Patricia Alice Meads, Veronica Anne Carrillo, Vincent Mart Willingham, Lawrence Contla, Brittany Oosterbrock, David Oosterbrock, Joseph Foglio, Ashley Foglio, Marina Ortiz-Corral, Bonnie Hopson, Mark Allen, Gina Allen, Kevin O’Connor, Sabrina Mendel, Bradley Namil, George Ewan, Linda Ewan, Jorge Valenzuela, Elizabeth Corn, Mary Breslin, Robert Andrews Jr, Cheryl Nelson, Kimberly Juarez, Chuck Marrs, Kimberly Marrs, Diana Williams, Amy Gehrke, William Gehrke, Daniel Morales, Mary Sandoval, Nancy Bruins, Seth Bruins, Allison Proffitt, Catherine Proffitt, Kevin Allison, Robert Walker, Pamela Walker, Roberto Corral, Kristen Wheatley, Edward Wheatley, Joseph Phillips, Trevor Miller, Norma Salazar, Wayne Challis, Diane Elmore and Perry Thompson in their capacities as the official proponents of the effort to recall Yucaipa City Councilmember Bobby Dean Duncan; as well as against Sherilyn Long, David Long, Kathleen Sellers, William Sellers, Robert Huddleston, Wanda Huddleston, Jeanette McKovich, James McKovich, Jay Bogh, Kari Bogh, Brian Bleyenberg, Jennifer Bleyenberg. Benjamin Bleyenberg, Kenneth Jackson, Mark Etheredge, Ramona Etheredge, Jason Bender, Colleen Wang, Matthew Vanderwood, Lynda Underwood, Mary Marsh, George Marsh, Gwendolyn Waters, Travis Waters, Joshua Waters, Jeffrey Bohner, Barbara Bohner, Gillian Bohner, Gillian Skinner, Pierre Assaf, Ivelisse Assaf, Lynette Hirsch, Phillip Philson, Kendall Taylor, Jean Taylor, Katelyn Taylor, Teri Boon, Suzanne Eshleman, James Eshleman, Rebekah Pedersen, Joe Pedersen, Sherry Todd, Heather Dent, Dwayne Brinks, Lucinda Brinks, Patrick Aguirre, Marlin Feenstra, Victoria Feenstra, Nino Valmassoi, Valerie Aguirre, Ruben Aguirre, Denise Aguirre, Wesley Feenstra, Carol Griffin, Christy Garcia, Donice Griffin, Chris Griffin, Cristobal Garcia, Linda Witham, Douglas Witham, Jamie Hillwig, Alan Hillwig, Paul Bolock and Julie Bolock in their capacities as the official proponents of the effort to recall Yucaipa Councilmember Matthew Gabriel Garner.
The writ of mandate relies upon Assembly Bill 2584, which went into effect on January 1 and enables city clerks to combat what are alleged to be “abuses of the recall process and to ensure that voters are not misled by false and misleading statements on recall petitions.”
It is not entirely clear whether the intent of the writ is to obtain a ruling nullifying the recall effort altogether or merely remove what Sauseda and those behind her are alleging to be false and misleading statements contained in the recall petitions. The petition for writ of mandate and its accompanying complaint for injunctive relief has been assigned to Judge Michael A Sachs. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 24 at 8:30 a.m. in Department S28 in San Bernardino Superior Court.
“The recall petitions contain numerous statements that are factually inaccurate and would mislead voters,” Sauseda asserted in a prepared statement. “As the city’s elections official, it is my duty to remain neutral, to apply current election law, and to protect voters by ensuring that they have accurate information.”
Assembly Bill 2584 subjects recall petitions to a 10-day public examination period during which the elections official or any voter may seek a writ of mandate/injunction requiring statements to be amended or deleted upon a showing, by clear and convincing proof, that the materials in question are false, misleading, or inconsistent with the state’s recall laws.
A press release put out by Joe Pradetto, the city’s spokesman who is answerable to Mann and must remain in the good graces of Beaver, Duncan and Garner to keep his job, states, “Proponents of the effort to recall Mayor Justin Beaver, Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Duncan, and Councilman Matt Garner submitted notices that included their reasons for seeking the recalls. After reviewing the notices, the city clerk, in her capacity as the city’s elections official, determined that many of the statements were objectively false, and others, while perhaps technically true, were clearly misleading.”
Pradetto quoted Sauseda as saying, “The legislative intent of AB 2584, as codified in Elections Code section 11042.5, is clear. Recall proponents have every right to outline their reasons for wanting to remove an elected official. This can include statements of fact, as well as opinions. However, recall petitions must not include false or misleading assertions presented as facts.”
According to Pradetto, “The California State Assembly’s analysis of AB 2584 states, ‘The practical effect of these provisions means that voters will be given the opportunity to address false, slanderous, or libelous material in the statement or answer, and potentially gives a court the opportunity to order changes to those materials before the recall proceeds.’”
Pradetto then upped the ante, stating, “In addition to the provisions of AB 2584, Sauseda also cautions recall proponents that, ‘Per Elections Code section 18600, it is a misdemeanor offense to circulate or obtain signatures on a recall petition that intentionally misrepresent or make false statements.’ Sauseda further points out, ‘Case law has established that petitions must provide information that is sufficient to enable voters to intelligently evaluate whether to sign them, and to avoid confusion.’”
Implying that those who signed the intent to recall notices were running the risk of going to jail for signing and filing a fraudulent and falsified public document, Pradetto offered recall proponents an exit from such a fate, if they merely recant the political heresies he said they had engaged in and clear the way for his political masters to remain in office unmolested.
“State law allows petition signers to withdraw their names from petitions they’ve signed if they later change their minds, but the law is unclear as to whether it applies to notices of intention,” Pradetto said. “Consistent with other provisions of the state Elections Code, the city clerk will honor requests from proponents who seek to remove their names from a notice of intention, as they may have signed it based on its inaccurate and misleading information.”
Pradetto offered the recall proponents one last chance to save their hides.
“Written and signed requests to withdraw one’s signature from a notice of intention may be submitted to the city clerk’s office for processing,” he said.
The recall attempt against Beaver, Duncan and Garner is providing the first opportunity to test the reach of AB 2584, and Sauseda’s petition for a writ of mandate is the first legal action under the legislation.
Meanwhile members of another large interest group in the city, mobile home residents, many of whom were not animated by the forced departure of Casey, have come to regard the council trio of Beaver, Duncan and Garner with suspicion.
The city council led by Beaver in the mayoral role has embarked on what has been variously described as a consolidation, reduction or outright elimination of citizen input and municipal oversight committees. One such “consolidation” was the elimination of the fire services committee, which city officials said would be offset by the establishment of a public safety committee. With the jury yet out on that change, the city council moved to shutter the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board. That entity had long served as a hedge against the runaway escalation in the cost of leasing space 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.
In recent weeks, there has been talk about what the actual implication of the closing out of the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board is. Within the development industry and among real estate speculators, there is an appetite for acquiring the property upon which mobile home parks currently exist, inducing the mobile home owners residing there to move their trailers elsewhere so the property can be converted to single family or multifamily residential use, thereby yielding the landowners and developers a tidy profit. A real estate professional who previously did appraisals in Yucaipa, including those mobile home parks there, told the Sentinel, “It was always the case that those mobile home parks were never considered to be a permanent use but a way for the property owners to get a return on their investment until the property is actually developed. Those mobile home parks are not the highest and best use of that land.”
There is a growing perception that the elimination of the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board, which is to be replaced by a “mobilehome rent stabilization hearing officer” who is to be hired by Mann and will serve at the pleasure of the city council, is a ploy to allow the rents and leases on mobile home space to inflate on a continuous basis until such time that those now residing in the city’s mobile home parks will no longer be able to afford to do so, at which point they will elect to move elsewhere, freeing the property to be developed by one of the companies or maybe more than one of the companies – Lennar, Pardee, Meritage Homes and Richmond American, Holland Development, Jacobsen Family Holdings, Turner Dale, Rotkin Real Estate Group, Carlton Properties, Preferred Business Properties Real Estate Services – which contracts with Mann for promotion.
There are some 4,200 mobile home spaces in the City of Yucaipa, which are home to more than 7,500 of the highest propensity voters in the city. If the recall proponents tap into that wellspring of voters who can easily be convinced, if they are not already, that City Hall as it is now controlled by Mann, Beaver, Duncan and Garner is seeking to facilitate real estate developers in their efforts to take over the mobile home parks where they now live to blow them off the property so real estate developers can turn a huge profit, the political survivability prospects for Beaver, Duncan and Garner will drop precipitously.
This week, Clifford Gericke, who ran against Duncan in 2020, told the Sentinel he was being threatened by Duncan. Gericke’s last name is similar, but not exactly the same as two of the signatories on the notice of intent to recall Duncan, Amy Gehrke and William Gehrke.
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. “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.”
Chris Mann, Garner said, “is a great city manager. I respect him and so do many others.”
That includes the rank and file at City Hall, Garner said.
“The lead union member of our city employees spoke highly of Chris Mann,” Garner said. “A lot of other employees came into the city chamber and supported Chris Mann. The morale among city employees is extremely high.”
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. Yes, we voted for this change, but I think it was time for a change.”
In the normally staid hamlet of Yucaipa, where for the better part of a century life has progressed at a steady pace and the intensive political bickering that has from time to time surfaced in many of San Bernardino County’s other municipalities even as creeping urbanization has made its presence felt, the veneer of civility has been vitiated.