Yucaipa Recall Effort, Stymied By Suit, Ends W/O Ballot Qualification

The recall effort launched earlier this year by a core group of Yucaipa residents that targeted the council majority that forced the resignation of longtime City Manager Ray Casey has wound down without success, having been short-circuited by a legal challenge ostensibly raised by the city clerk put into place by the same council majority that was responsible for Casey’s exit.
With that lawsuit having effectuated the purpose for which it was filed – stymieing the recall – its sponsors are looking now to decommission it.
Nevertheless, the impetus that inspired the recall remains, and the collective animus against what passes for the political establishment in the city of 55,547 remains alive.
Eleven months ago, as the 2022 election approached, the Yucaipa 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. Bogh, Avila and Thorp were more than pleased with the performance of Ray Casey, who from 2003 until 2008 had been the city’s municipal engineer and public works director and since 2008 onward city manager. At the last city council meeting in October 2022, they had scheduled a vote on ensuring his retention as city manager, extending Casey’s contract at least until June 30, 2024 and providing 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. When that item came up, Duncan and Beaver joined with Bogh, Avila and Thorp in unanimously passing it. In the November 8, 2022 election, Matt Garner managed to finish first in the race to represent Yucaipa’s First District and Chris Venable captured first place in the Second District contest such that 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 had caught wind 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 preceding the public 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 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 also 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 initial portion of 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 the 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. 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.
Despite Mann’s status as a Yucaipa resident and president of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors, it was soon well-known among city residents that in addition to having been the Canyon Lake city manager, 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’ specialty was, 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.” Furthermore, according to the company website, “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 had been brought in to oversee the operation of City Hall, including the city’s land use decision-making and planning functions, while he was simultaneously working for and accepting money from developmental interests, the very entities he was supposed to be regulating. Nor was it 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 of 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 further appeared that Beaver and Garner were equally enthusiastic about joining in the developmental frenzy.
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 dozens or indeed scores 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 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 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 City Hall, where they filed a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions against Garner, Duncan and Beaver. 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, as residents of District 4, signed the notice of the intention to circulate the recall petition against Justin A. Beaver.
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, as residents of District 3, signed the notice of the intention to circulate the recall petition against Bobby Dean Duncan.
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, as residents of District 1, signed the notice of the intention to circulate the recall petition against Councilmember Matthew Gabriel Garner.
Reasons given for seeking the recall against each of the three were that they had acted to terminate Casey and had violated the Brown Act in doing so.
Initially, city officials were caught off guard by the boldness of the recall effort. A first reaction by Beaver’s, Duncan’s and Garner’s supporters was to warn residents against signing the petition. Statements circulated that those signing the petition ran the risk of having their personal information compromised.
In the aftermath of Casey’s departure and the hiring of Mann, Mann replaced the city clerk who had been in place under Casey, Kimberly Metzler, with his own choice, that being Ana Sauceda.
Sauceda already owed much to Mann for advancements in her municipal career. In 2018, she had been a city clerk records management analyst in the Rancho Cucamonga city clerk’s office making $40,952 annually before benefits. In 2018, Sauceda was hired to serve as deputy city clerk in Canyon Lake. In 2020, Mann promoted her to city clerk, with her annual salary before benefits increasing to $72,978.28. In 2021, her salary before benefits jumped to $82,845 and in 2021, Mann arranged to increase her salary to $103,807 before benefits.
When Mann in March brought Sauseda over from Canyon Lake, he installed her as both the city clerk and the director of general services at an annual salary of $163,858.63 before benefits.
In Sauseda’s capacity as city clerk, the processing of the intent to recall documents fell to her. Mann, meanwhile, was able to avail the city of the services of the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm. Between Mann and the Sutton Law Firm’s attorneys Bradley W. Hertz and Eli B. Love, they found what they said might be some factual errors: Despite all appearances on the evening of January 9 when Graham was available to serve as city attorney even before a vote on firing Snow took place and Mann was waiting in the wings at City Hall in anticipation of the council confirming the acceptance of Casey’s resignation, an actual violation of the Ralph M. Brown couldn’t be and hadn’t been proved, they asserted. Nor was it true that Casey had been terminated, they pointed out. He had resigned of his own volition. Moreover, Mann, Hertz and Love noted, the recall papers were worded against each of the three councilmen separately, asserting each had taken the action on January 9 for which they were being criticized. In actuality, Mann, Hertz and Love averred, no single council member had the authority to take action on his authority alone. Such action as the trio was accused of individually could only be taken with no fewer than three members of the council coming together to vote as a majority of the body. Thus, the grounds cited for the recall were invalid, they said.
Sauseda listened to their analysis and bought it. Shortly thereafter, represented by Hertz, Love and the Sutton Law Firm, Sauseda, as Yucaipa city clerk and the city’s election officer, filed suit in San Bernardino Superior Court in the form of a writ of mandate naming all of the proponents of the recall against Beaver, all of the proponents of the recall against Duncan and all of the proponents of the effort to recall Garner.
The writ of mandate relied 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.”
Sauseda’s upshot, which in reality was Mann’s, Hertz’s and Love’s upshot, was that there were false and misleading statements contained in the recall petitions which should invalidate the recall effort altogether.
Mann, with the backing of Beaver, Duncan and Garner, used city funds to pay for Hertz’s, Love’s and the Sutton Law Firm’s filing on behalf of Sauseda.
In March, the same month that Mann had brought Sauseda to Yucaipa, he had hired Joe Pradetto to serve as Yucaipa’s director of governmental affairs. Pradetto, who had run in many of the same circles as Mann, has been a planning commissioner with the City Of Palm Desert since February 2015. He was a supervising deputy assessor with the County of Riverside from April 2017 until November 2021, at which point he was hired by Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington to serve as his chief of staff. Pradetto stayed in that post for one year and four months, departing from Washington’s office in February 2023 to take the Yucaipa job.
From January 2010 until April of 2017, Pradetto had been a legislative assistant with the County of Riverside. From September 2014 until December of 2018, he was a board member and then the president of the Coachella Valley Resource Conservation District.
Pradetto put out a press release announcing Sauseda’s suit, referencing Assembly Bill 2584 and offering the somewhat dubious assertion that the city clerk had carried out an independent and impartial analysis of the recall notices, coming to a conclusion on her own “that many of the statements were objectively false, and others, while perhaps technically true, were clearly misleading.”
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.’”
Recall proponents asserted that Sauseda, Hertz and Love were dealing in semantics with the writ. While it was true that Casey resigned, he did so with a figurative gun pointed at his head, the proponents pointed out, such that he was for all intents and purposes terminated. Saying that they could not prove a Brown Act violation occurred on January 9 was not the same as saying that a Brown Act violation did not occur, the proponents maintained. The optics were such that it certainly appeared there was a Brown Act violation, they said.
Some recall proponents said they would be willing to redraft the recall papers to address Sauseda’s assertions of inaccuracies. Sauseda refused to allow a new submission to be substituted for the original.
The filing of the suit, the cost of having to make a legal response and the threat of arrest being made against the recall proponents was intended, and succeeded, in spreading fear and dissension within the ranks of the recall proponents.
Some of the 194 recall sponsors sought to withdrew their backing, but the city opposed that.
The recall proponents retained Jim Penman of the Milligan Beswick Law Firm to represent them in their effort to contest the writ. Penman, who was for more than 20 years the city attorney in San Bernardino, was carrying that effort forward, but time was elapsing.
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 member in that city is now one-fifth as formidable as it would have been previously.
Given that District 1 in Yucaipa has 7,303 registered voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Garner, recall proponents had to gather the signatures of at least 1,826 registered voters in his district by August 16.
Given that there are 5,912 registered voters in District 3, to qualify a vote on recalling Duncan, recall proponents were required to gather the signatures of at least 1,478 registered voters in District 3 by August 16.
Given that District 4 has 6,492 voters, to qualify a vote on recalling Beaver, recall proponents needed to garner the signatures of at least 1,623 registered voters in his district by August 16.
Distracted and threatened by the legal action and unsure of whether the legal action would invalidate their effort in any event, the recall proponents failed to coordinate the gathering of signatures over the four months they had to do so.
August 16 came and went, and they did not have 1,826 registered voters’ signatures on the petition targeting Garner, nor the 1,478 registered voters’ signatures on the petition targeting Duncan, nor the 1,623 registered voters’ signatures for the document targeting Beaver.
Still, the proponents maintain that the underlying effort was valid and they believe the writ of mandate petition was a legally questionable effort to upset the recall. They believe they are entitled to obtain from Sauseda – meaning the city – the attorney’s fees they expended fighting the suit.
The city – meaning Beaver, Duncan, Garner, Mann and Sauseda – have achieved their goal, and they are ready to let the matter die.
Immediately after the recall signature deadline elapsed, Sauseda made a motion to drop the suit and have both sides cover its own legal costs. The proponents countered that the suit should be settled, with the city covering the proponents’ legal costs.
On August 24, Penman gave indication to the court he will seek legal fees for his clients. It is the city that launched the suit and now it wants to close it out. The city can’t have it both ways, recall proponents maintain.
“As the circulation period has ended and the proponents have backed down from circulating the false and misleading statements that led to this suit, the city has prevailed in protecting the voters and there is no purpose in continuing this lawsuit,” Sauseda put forth in a statement from the city on Tuesday September 5. “It is my hope that the proponents reconsider the settlement offer as it is the best course of action for all involved.”
The recall proponents “by filing for dismissal after [an] already proposed settlement and then rejecting that settlement,” Sauseda said, “are prolonging the legal battle and incurring additional legal fees. If, as they have claimed, recall proponents are concerned about the expenditure of taxpayer dollars, this just doesn’t add up.”
Penman on Friday, September 8 said that normally he would be precluded from making any sort of public statement while litigation for his clients is pending. “I am allowed, though, to respond to a public statement from the city,” he said. “The following statement is in response to a press release issued by the City of Yucaipa quoting the city clerk earlier this week: Our clients were put through a lot of grief by the city unnecessarily. That was after an offer to withdraw the recall.  Those good residents of Yucaipa have a right to have the court determine whether or not the city’s conduct against them was more political than legal.”
Penman continued, “That means the court now needs to determine whether or not the city should be required to reimburse them for their legal fees if the court determines the city should have accepted the offer of the recall proponents to withdraw the recall papers and put a halt to the legal expenses going back to May 24. As of now, the taxpayers of Yucaipa and the Yucaipa citizens, who lawfully exercised their right to recall their elected officials, have been forced to pay unnecessary legal fees for the city’s lawyers and for the recall proponents’ lawyers. The city had the opportunity to stop those costs from accumulating a mere 7 days after the city clerk commenced her lawsuit. The city, however, which is controlled by the three council members who are the subjects of the recall, deliberately chose to needlessly continue a lawsuit which became legally moot one week after it was filed.”
Penman accused Beaver, Duncan, Garner, Mann and Sauseda of “misusing the legal process to punish citizens for exercising their legal rights as Americans, as has been happening in this case since the beginning. Those citizens, a number of whom are U. S. Military veterans, including several who are fixed-income residents of Yucaipa, decline to let their victimization by three council members and the minions of those politicians go unanswered.”
An individual intimately involved in the recall effort said Beaver, Duncan and Garner have merely succeeded in postponing their political demise.
“I would be extremely surprised if the recall effort is not reignited once we get past this legal nonsense,” he said.
-Mark Gutglueck

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