Yucaipa Solons Rethink $10K Campaign Donations, Signaling Anticipated Growth

Intensifying already heightened concern that Yucaipa’s elected officials are intent on embarking on an intensive round of residential development, the Yucaipa City Council last month signaled that it would dispense with the campaign contribution limit it had moved toward putting in place in January.
On January 22, the Yucaipa City Council demurred upon encountering city staff’s recommendation that it pass an ordinance which would allow elected city officials – that is, the city council members – to accept contributions of any amount of money with no limits.
Because of existing state legislation, any municipality that does not adopt its own ordinance specifying campaign donation limits defaults to the current $5,500 campaign donation limit. In response, the council, with some of its members expressing reluctance to adhere to any limitation, acceded to Councilman Bobby Duncan’s motion to impose a $10,000 limit so as to appease those casting aspersions on the council relating to their acceptance of money from development interests and others with a financial interest in the city council’s action. With Councilman Jon Thorp absent and Councilman Chris Venable dissenting, Duncan, Mayor Justin Beaver and Councilman Matt Garner prevailed in a vote approving an ordinance to be finalized by city staff in which a $10,000 campaign limit was to be imposed.
With that ordinance having been approved in what is referred to as a first reading, it needed to undergo a second vote of approval, whereupon 30 days from the so-called second reading it would go into effect.
On February 26, despite the city council’s January 22 vote, the council was presented with a staff report by City Attorney Steve Graham which proffered two versions of the new ordinance, one of which was designated as Ordinance No. 440, tweaking the Yucaipa Municipal Code to add Section 1.08.070 and establishing no campaign contribution limits; and another delineated as Ordinance No. 443, altering the Yucaipa Municipal Code to establish campaign contribution limits.
Further down in the report, Graham wrote, “As the City of Yucaipa has historically not had campaign contribution limits, and after several months of correspondence seeking guidance and clarification from the Fair Political Practices Commission, staff brought forward an item on January 22, 2024, recommending that the city council adopt an ordinance setting the limit to “no limit.” Per direction from the city council, staff has drafted an ordinance setting the limit to $10,000 and is included as Attachment 2. Staff recommends that the city council review both ordinances and approve the introduction and first reading of either one.”
At the meeting, Graham gave a brief presentation in which he represented that at the January 22 meeting he had been instructed not to finalize an already approved concept of imposing a $10,000 limit on donations to the city council but had been directed to draft a version with that limit to be considered anew that evening.
Yucaipa resident Kevin Miskin told the council that in the most recent election cycles, the members of the council had received donations well below the $10,000 threshold and that “I am concerned about the fact that a number of the donors have contracts that have been voted on by this city council. I propose that there be an ordinance to change that to make sure that council members actually notify us who they’re voting for.”
Mayor Beaver motioned for the council to adopt Ordinance No. 443, with the $10,000 limit, whereupon Councilman Garner motioned for the council to adopt Ordinance No. 440, with no limit.
Thorp said, “I’m going to second item number one, which is the one for 440 and I want to give an explanation why. I think if we set it as unlimited, it helps with or lends itself to more transparency. People then report it properly. People can pull that information. They can tell you what’s been donated. When you set a limit, if people want to go above that limit, then what happens is a lot of times they will go through a PAC [political action committee]. And it is very difficult at that point to see who and where that money is coming from. So that is my justification or my reasoning behind why I would vote for one or why I’m seconding it.”
With Beaver in opposition, Garner’s motion passed 4-to-1.
Some Yucaipa residents expressed concern that a move is on to have property that heretofore has not been developed – including former agricultural land, land that has lain dormant for some time, along with as many as seven or eight of the city’s existing mobile home parks – undergo a radical transformation into high-density residential development, such that the population in the 27.8-square mile city will nearly triple from its current 53,834 to 150,000 within the next twenty years. This will, those residents say, greatly profit landowners, land speculators, developers, the building industry, construction material suppliers and those involved in the real estate profession. Garner and Duncan are among those who draw their income from the latter two sectors of the economy. City Manager Chris Mann, who was hired at the instigation of Beaver, Duncan and Garner early last year, has double covalent bonds with the building industry. Residents have told the Sentinel that they believe Graham, under instruction from Mann, arranged to present both versions of the ordinance – that containing the $10,000 limit and no limit – to the council at the February 26 meeting to give the council another opportunity to set the stage for its members’ reception of political donations in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and beyond a million dollars so they can be induced to go along with alterations to the character of the city that will result in certain interests profiting at levels exceeding one hundred million dollars apiece.
It is said that Beaver, who went along with Duncan and Garner in displacing former City Manager Ray Casey in favor of hiring Mann in January 2023, was somewhat chastened by a recall effort that was launched against him, Duncan and Garner by no fewer than 194 Yucaipa residents last year. That recall effort failed. More recently, Beaver appears to have broken with Duncan and Garner in terms of the coalition they had formed in the earliest stage of Beaver’s mayoral administration. That break came, according to a detailed indication that is extant among various officeholders throughout Southern California, upon Beaver, who is employed as a detective with the Azusa Police Department, learning, through Azusa Police Chief Rocky Wenrick, that the FBI is scrutinizing the City of Yucaipa very closely with an eye to payoffs being provided to city officials. Beaver is highly conscious of the optics that grew out of the sacking of Casey and the hiring of Mann, and is intensely militating to prevent himself from being associated with his former allies, those close to the situation say.
Today, March 15, just prior to press time, the Sentinel received from one of its spies in Yucaipa a report that fast moving developments with regard to the inquiries into allegations of graft at Yucaipa City Hall have resulted in Beaver and Duncan, who must stand for reelection in November to be able to remain in office beyond December, deciding it would be best for them to leave office when their current terms expire.
“The word is Duncan and Beaver aren’t running for council again,” the well-placed observer told the Sentinel, and then asked, “Does that mean Yucaipa will get a new city manager?”
-Mark Gutglueck

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