Adelanto Has Had A Fair Share of Dysfunction

Adelanto, which means ‘progress’ or ‘advance’ in Spanish, and was originally inhabited by the Serrano  Native American tribe, was considered by the High Desert’s settlers in the late 1800s to be well suited for agricultural purposes, particularly for the growing of deciduous fruit.
Earl Holmes Richardson, originally of Milwaukee, had intentions of transforming the mostly bare desert of Adelanto into a city. He fell short of incorporating it in his lifetime, but he was instrumental in whipping it into a shape that was eventually municipalized.
Richardson made his way to Ontario in 1895 and found a job maintaining and repairing the power plant that electrified the trolley cars that traveled up and down Euclid Avenue. Based on his understanding of electricity and inspired by his wife Mary’s complaint about the inconvenience of having to constantly reheat her traditional clothes iron on the stove, Richardson experimented with using resistive heating from an electrical current to create an electric flat iron.  He designed a small, lightweight model that was easier to wield than the five to ten pound irons of the day. He distributed his model widely around Ontario. Based on further input from his wife, he redesigned his invention to put the heating element closer to the top point of the iron to facilitate pressing around buttonholes, ruffles and pleats. By 1905, his version of the electric “hotpoint” iron was outselling all other electric irons produced by other companies in America.
Beginning in 1911 and continuing until 1917, Richardson found other innovative ways to electrify household appliances, and he created the “El” line of products, including the El Perco (an electric coffeepot), El Chafo (a chafing dish), El Tosto (an electric toaster), El Stovo (an early hotplate), El Eggo (an egg cooker), El Teballo (an electric teapot), and El Warmo (an electric heating pad).
In 1915, Richardson sold one of his patents and purchased land in what is now Adelanto for $75,000. His intention was to  and develop one of the first planned communities in Southern California. Richardson subdivided his land into one-acre plots.
In 2017, he convinced the U.S. Postal Service to locate a post office in Adelanto.
Upon America’s entrance into what was then known as the “Great War” but which subsequently was called World War I, many of the combatants, known in America as “doughboys” were exposed to mustard gas.  Richardson, in response to the significant number of GIs afflicted in this way, hoped to create in Adelanto a community that would be hospitable to veterans with respiratory ailments suffered while serving their country. He worked toward building a respiratory hospital/sanitarium there, but did not meet that goal before he died in 1934.
With the approach of World War II, the U.S. Government undertook the crash development of a number of military installations around the country, including establishing the Victorville Army Air Field within Adelanto’s sphere of influence. That facility, later redubbed George Air Force Base after the end of the war and the National Defense Reorganization Act of 1947 which created the Air Force out of the Army Air Corps, became something of an economic engine for the community of Adelanto.
Despite having a population of fewer than 7,000 residents, Adelanto incorporated as a general law city in 1970. The maiden city council thereupon hired 23-year-old James DeAguilera as its city manager.
In 1975, the city council granted the Mgrdichian Family a license to run the Hi Desert Casino, which became something of an institution in the city, an entertainment center, gambling establishment and restaurant that catered to the general public and airmen at the nearby Air Force Base. It also served as a type of bank, which cashed checks for and provided loans to people the ownership trusted.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s decision to shutter George Air Force Base effective in 1992 touched off an extended period of political upheaval in Adelanto. One faction, led by Mayor Ed Dondelinger, sought to cooperate with other nearby desert cities, in particular Victorville, over a shared takeover of the Air Force base and its civilian use conversion. Another faction, led by city co-founder, one-time City Councilwoman and Mayor and then-City Manager Pat Chamberlaine, coveted the air base for Adelanto alone.
At Chamberlaine’s instigation and with the assistance of City Attorney Robert Zaiden Corrado, the city transitioned into a charter city in 1992. From that point forward, Adelanto became the most politically unstable city in the county. Particularly in the 1990s, Adelanto was a hotbed of recall efforts, with the Chamberlaine and Dondelinger warring factions vying for ascendancy continuously. When Dondelinger captured two supporting votes on the council, as mayor he moved to terminate Chamberlaine as city manager. In return, Chamberlaine organized a political resistance to the Dondelinger regime that involved a series of both unsuccessful and successful recall attempts of Dondelinger and his council confederates. Once out of office, Dondelinger engaged in political reprisals of his own, organizing a multitude of recall efforts that both successfully and unsuccessfully targeted Chamberlaine and her legion of affiliates.
Simultaneously, Chamberlaine while in power made a bid to convince the Department of Defense to confer the base property on Adelanto. In neighboring Victorville, then-Mayor Terry Caldwell and then-City Manager Jim Cox militated to have Victorville lay claim to the facility so it could develop it as an international Airport. Caldwell, who was an attorney and well-versed in the methods by which government operates, worked in close cooperation with San Bernardino County, Apple Valley and Hesperia through the joint powers collective of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, known by its acronym VVEDA, to convince the federal military base re-use authorities that VVEDA offered the best alternative for reclaiming the base. Adelanto, dominated by Chamberlaine, spared no expense in carrying out the effort to claim the base property as its own. Utilizing its adjunct municipal authority in a way that was not merely questionable but most likely illegal, the City of Adelanto used its redevelopment agency to issue bonds to provide financing to pay for its legal effort to not only assert its claim of ownership rights to the base but to block the efforts by VVEDA. Corrado, as the city’s redevelopment attorney, was more than willing to collect what in the final analysis totaled more than $7 million in legal fees to file motion upon motion upon motion with the court system, none of which had any effect other than delaying the inevitable.
Meanwhile, Victorville had been maneuvering behind the scenes to effectively take control of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, paying not only for the legal representation of the authority in its legal responses to the filings made by Corrado on behalf of Adelanto, but secretly defraying Hesperia and Apple Valley’s VVEDA membership dues. In this way, the voting members of the City of Hesperia and the Town of Apple Valley on the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority board of directors became tools of Victorville, or more essentially, Caldwell and Cox, who used their control over a large coalition of local governments to outmuscle Adelanto politically in the competition to assume ownership of the base property.
On Friday, April 29, 1994 James Boatright, then the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for installations, signed a lease giving the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority essential dominion over 2,300 acres at the base. On January 9, 1995, the Air Force announced that it would deal with VVEDA exclusively in the discussion with regard to the annexation of the remaining 3,039 acres on the base that VVEDA had not yet leased. Adelanto had lost out in the air base sweepstakes.
In 2001, Adelanto dissolved its police department and contracted with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for the provision of law enforcement services.
In 2015, following the 2014 election of Richard Kerr as mayor and John Woodard to the city council, the three-man ruling council coalition of Kerr, Woodard and Councilman Jermaine Wright embarked on a plan to transform Adelanto into the “marijuana capital of California.” Correctly anticipating California’s legalization of marijuana for intoxicative purposes with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act passed with the approval of Proposition 64 in 2016, they first undertook to allow marijuana to be grown for medicinal purposes in greenhouses within the city’s industrial park district with the proviso that it would be wholesaled to dispensaries outside the city, prohibiting, at that time, licensing dispensaries or the retailing of sale of the drug within the city. After the passage of Proposition 64, the trio moved to make marijuana sales across the board legal in the city, even as they were taking kickbacks from entities seeking to have their marijuana-related and cannabis-related businesses given approval by the city council.
In 2017, Wright was arrested by the FBI and charged by the U.S. Attorney with taking a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as a would-be marijuana distributor seeking city permits to run a marijuana hauling/trucking company. Wright was removed from the council in January 2018 and was convicted at trial in 2022. He is serving a five-year prison term.
In 2018 Kerr’s home, office and Adelanto City Hall were raided by the FBI. Later that year, he and Woodard were voted out of office. In 2021, Kerr was arrested and charged by the U.S. Attorney with bribetaking. In January 2023 he was convicted and in July he was sentenced to 14 months in prison.

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