Adelanto Voters Reject Undeveloped Land Parcel Tax

Adelanto’s voters on Tuesday gave resounding indication that they considered that city’s political leadership to be seeking an “unaffordable, unnecessary, and unfair” tax escalation with Measure U.
With all 25 of the city’s precincts having reported and a significant number of the mail-in ballots having been counted as of 4 p.m. Friday, March 8, 1,021 of the total 1,606 votes cast, or 65.24 percent, were lodged against the measure, which called for a parcel tax to be imposed on vacant land. Slightly more than one-third of the city’s voters who cast ballots in the election, 544 or 34,76 percent, voted in favor of the initiative.
The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters website as of Friday night reflected a discrepancy in that it showed 1,606 votes being cast in Adelanto, with only 1,565 of those voters participating in the vote relating to Measure U. By the time the Sentinel recognized the discrepancy, the office was closed and it could not be determined by press time whether this was a misrecording of the number of votes relating to Measure U or whether 41 of the residents in Adelanto who voted simply did not vote one way or the other on Measure U.
To pass, Measure U needed a two-thirds assonance of those participating in the election.
Turnout in the election was poor. Of the city’s 39,477 residents, 15,665 are registered to vote. The 1,606 votes counted so far represent 10.25 percent of the city’s registered voters. It is anticipated that by the time of the next tally of votes throughout the county by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office tomorrow at 2 p.m. perhaps another few dozen ballots will arrive by post. It does not appear that voter turnout will be much greater than 12 percent, meaning roughly one out of every eight voters in the city participated in Tuesday’s California March 5 Primary Election.
Opposition to the measure manifested early on, with major participants in the No on Measure U campaign consisting of developers, real estate interests and the local business community other than those involved in the promotion of commercial marijuana and cannabis products.
It was doubtful, in any event, that the measure would be able to obtain the supermajority support it needed to pass.
Residents in the city have the lowest per capita income among all cities and incorporated towns in San Bernardino County, at $17,799, although in terms of per household income, there are two cities in the county which rank lower than Adelanto. Wit 17.9 percent of its population living below the poverty line, Adelanto is second to the City of San Bernardino within the county in that regard.
There are multiple indicators, beyond the low turnout in this year’s election, that Adelanto residents in general have lost faith in their municipal leadership. Beginning in 2015, three of the city’s then-elected leaders – Mayor Rich Kerr, Councilman Jermaine Wright and Councilman John Woodard – embarked on what they insisted was a sound plan to pursue economic development and enhance the city government’s finances, given that City Hall was teetering on the brink of insolvency. That strategy consisted of breaking with what was generally throughout the county a policy against allowing marijuana and cannabis products to be available commercially in the city under what was then the auspices of 1996’s Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, to allow for the cultivation of medical marijuana within a part of the city’s industrial zone. In 2016, with the State of California trending toward the eventual approval of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Kerr, Wright and Woodard transitioned to permitting marijuana and cannabis product sales of all types – for both medicinal effect and for intoxicative purposes – to take place throughout the city, well beyo0nd the confines of the city’s industrial parks. Indeed, Kerr vowed to make Adelanto the “marijuana capital of California,” in so doing, promising to alleviate all fiscal concerns the city once had by the imposition of a modest tax on marijuana and cannabis products. In pursuing this goal, Kerr hired Jessie Flores to serve as the city’s contract economic development director, under a contract that allowed him to work out deals on the side for himself. That arrangement allowed Flores to receive payments from the businesses that he induced into setting up operations within Adelanto’s city limits. A significant number of those businesses turned out to be would-be marijuana and cannabis product entrepreneurs, who were lining up at the city’s planning counter to lodge applications for their operations. An element of that development frenzy was that those applicants often carried with them briefcases or satchels filled with cash, money that was intended to be, and became, payoffs to city officials.
By 2017, local officials in Adelanto were being bought off left and right, including members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff’s department served as the city’s contract law enforcement agency/police department. Those bribes convinced members of the department to look the other way when it came to the graftfest that was ongoing at Adelanto City Hall. Ultimately, when federal authorities took a hard look at the city, the FBI, IRS, Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles were able to collar Kerr and Wright. Both are now serving time in federal penitentiaries based on bribery convictions. Before Kerr was voted out of office in 2018, however, he managed to promote Flores to city manager. Under Flores and the mayor that replaced Kerr, Gabriel Reyes, the marijuanification of Adelanto has continued, justified by claims that tax revenue from the sales of marijuana and cannabis products will shore up the city’s finances. Despite those claims, the city, while hosting more than two dozen of what are said to be “thriving” marijuana and cannabis product operations, is collecting very little, indeed negligible, tax from those businesses. The city’s financial picture is so dire, in fact, that San Bernardino County and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is providing “special” subsidization to Adelanto that is not given any other city in San Bernardino County in the form of patrol deputies covering law enforcement beats within the 56-square mile city.
A significant number of Adelanto residents have doubts about the honest and integrity of Adelanto government. Based on known and established degree of graft that permeated City Hall during the Kerr regime, the role Flores played in attracting many of the marijuana-based operations to the city which were participating in providing under-the-table payments to Kerr and Wright, there is widespread suspicion throughout the city that Flores remains in place as a corrosive and corrupting influence on the politicians now in place.
That mix of circumstance and perception impacted, to no small degree, the willingness of Adelanto’s voters to support Measure U.
A coterie of city residents, some with ties to the city’s current political establishment, advocated on behalf of Measure U, in some cases in ways that proved counterproductive. Those included stern warnings to city residents that without revenue enhancements, the city would need to drastically cut services, including public safety services, park and road maintenance and infrastructure provision. If passed, the parcel taxes would have imposed a surcharge of anywhere between $50 to $600 per acre on Adelanto’s vacant lots and would have generated an estimated $6.2 million per year for the city.
Some supporters, in profanity-laced warnings and threats to their neighbors, accused those who did not support the 20-year tax authorization of being unworthy citizens, who would need to leave the city if the tax did not pass.
Measure U’s supporters vowed to fight on, saying they will seek putting a sales tax increase or utility tax on the ballot in the future, perhaps as early as this November.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply