Category Archives: Uncategorized
County OES Head Delayed Mountain Blizzard Response Strategy Session 10 Days
By Mark Gutglueck
The lackluster response of the multiple state and governmental agencies to the challenges of the February and March blizzard conditions in San Bernardino County’s mountain communities was in large measure a reflection of the lack of timely reaction and dearth of emergency management training, experience, and education by the county deputy executive officer overseeing the San Bernardino County Office of Emergency Services and his failure to coordinate with the county’s chief executive officer in getting equipment, supplies and manpower in place, sources familiar with the county’s managerial echelon and its emergency protocol have told the Sentinel.
What came about over the last week-and-a-half of February and into the second week of March had its roots in County Executive Officer Leonard Hernandez’s penchant for promoting into the county’s top managerial posts individuals loyal to him rather than those whose demonstrated competence would otherwise have qualified them for department leadership positions, county officials have told the Sentinel.
In the instant case of what is now referred to as the Blizzard of ’23, Assistant County Executive Officer Daniel Muñoz’s understanding and functional familiarity with the county’s so-called FAST Plan, meant to provide a blueprint of the emergency response to a whole host of anticipated weather disasters that could beset the county, was at best sketchy, according to those who have worked with him in the county’s two primary emergency response divisions. As a consequence of that, it appears, Muñoz for ten days failed to trigger a set of prearranged procedures in response to what were deteriorating weather conditions and then a fully manifested weather system. Continue reading
Hiding Tortoise Presence Data Tripped Up Wonder Valley Inn Proponents
What appeared to be clear sailing toward the routine approval of a proposal to establish a resort hotel in the desert community of Wonder Valley ran into a ruinous typhoon when public input revealed the extent to which the project proponents had attempted to conceal from county land use officials conditions relating to the property on which the development was to take place.
After a four-hour 37 minute and 45 second public hearing, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission March 23 rejected the San Bernardino County Land Use Services staff’s recommendation and denied a proposal by Jason Landver and Alan Greenburg to construct the Wonder Inn on what would roughly total 12 acres within a 21.22-acre parcel and an adjoining 3.18 parcel located at 78201 Amboy Road, not too distant from the southwest corner of Amboy Road and Gammel Road.
Going into the meeting, Landver and Greenberg had the momentum of a county land use services department staff recommendation that the planning commission endorse the project to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, which as the county’s ultimate elected decision-making body, alone had the authority to adopt the mitigated negative declaration and mitigation monitoring and reporting program for the project, adopt the findings for the approval of the project and approve changing the RL-5 zoning, allowing for rural residential living consisting of a single residential home on five acres, which applied to 21.22 acres of the property to CS, zoning, that is commercial service use, and approve the conditional use permit for the project to proceed. Continue reading
Ontario Ranch Park Place Parents Can’t Get Their Kids Into School They Pay $4,433.11 Per Year For
Several score parents in the southernmost area of Ontario were given an object lesson in how unfairly they and their children can be treated by the combination of local government, the development community and the school district they have entrusted to educate their children using a state law that allows the financial burden for building schools to fall on them without any assurance their children will be allowed to attend them.
Historically in California, developers were required to defray the cost of the infrastructure they were required to build to accompany their various projects, such as streets, curbs, sidewalks, water lines, sewer lines, sewers, schools and parks. Oftentimes those builders were required to construct the improvements outright; in others, they would contribute money to a municipal fund that paid for the needed accessory equipment and foundations to service the homes being built and the people living in them.
In 1945, the California Legislature enacted the Community Redevelopment Act with the stated intent of assisting local governments eliminate blight through development, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of residential, commercial, industrial, and retail properties. This allowed cities to form redevelopment districts in which the property tax collected therein – referred to as tax increment – would come under the exclusive control of the redevelopment agency. The redevelopment agency would borrow against that future tax increment revenue, generally in the form of issuing municipal bonds which would be sold to investors. The proceeds from those bond sales would then be used by the redevelopment agency, which was a subentity of the city, to eliminate the redevelopment district of its blight, thereby encouraging the development of the property. The development of the property, in turn, would increase the property’s value, increasing the property tax/tax increment it yielded, allowing the bond holders to be debt serviced.
Over time, however, many cities, ruled by city councils with members who were being politically sponsored by the development community, began to take advantage of the looseness in the law relating to redevelopment agency formations and taxing authority and would create redevelopment agencies to redevelop land that was not necessarily blighted. Instead of the proceeds from the bond sales being used to eliminate blight, they would be diverted to pay for the infrastructure to support development projects. In this way, the developers were able to pursue construction projects without having to pay for the off-site and public improvements that they were traditionally required to construct or otherwise finance. This shifted the burden of paying for the cost of residential and other types of development from the developers to the homeowners and purchasers of the buildings those developers constructed, greatly increasing the profits they realized by plying their trade. They would then devote a portion of their increased profits to intensifying their monetary support of local elected officials, who, rather corruptly, went along with the bastardization of the redevelopment process to the detriment of the average homebuyer.
Ultimately, in 2011, because of these abuses of redevelopment law, the California legislature ended redevelopment agency authorizations throughout the state.
Along the way and even before the demise of redevelopment in California, politicians in the Golden State who were being bankrolled by developers, found other ways to cut those engaged in home, commercial and industrial construction a break on how much it would cost them to do business through creative infrastructure financing arrangement that ultimately end up costing the end users of the properties those developers build and then sell at a substantial profit.
Assemblyman Mike Roos, a tool of the construction industry whose district was in Los Angeles, recognized that the free ride his developer patrons were getting could not last forever. He sponsored two pieces of legislation which first, essentially legalized utilizing special assessments imposed on the future owners of selected properties to create a revenue stream to finance infrastructure improvements benefiting the developers of that property and second allowed governmental collectives, headed by politicians funded largely by the development industry to impose those assessments in ways that essentially bypassed those ultimately called upon to pay those assessments.
The Mello-Roos law allowed land speculators, landowners or developers who had control of yet-to-be-developed property to choose to have imposed on their property tax assessments. Local government would then borrow against that future assessment revenue to construct all order of infrastructure related to the property. The assessments are then passed along to the ultimate purchasers of the property, and remain in place for a considerable period of time, sometimes for 25 years but can be extended to 40 years and in certain cases can remain in place for 99 years. The Marks-Roos law grants joint powers authorities – a combination of more than one governmental entity such as a city, a county, a school district, a water district, a fire district, a hospital district, etc – to form an assessment district without a vote of those upon whom the assessment is imposed.
The once-vaunted Chino Agricultural Preserve, stretching from what was then Ontario at its north end through eastern Chino and across a large swath of unincorporated San Bernardino all the way down to the Riverside County line, was formerly the most intensive milk-producing area in the world. Within its 17,000 acre confines were just under 400 dairies and 400,000 cows which grazed on land which was protected from the encroachment of development under the auspices of California’s Williamson Act — a 1965 law that was intended to preserve California farmland and to serve as a hedge against urban sprawl. The law granted substantial tax breaks to property owners agreeing to restrict their land to agricultural uses for at least 10 years.
By the mid-1980s, growing numbers of dairy farmers in the preserve wanted out, as the local milk industry was itself being subjected to the same pressures that had been brought to bear on dairyman who had been forced to pull up the stakes of their Los Angeles County operations two decades before.
In 1986, the county took the first step toward deconstructing the Williamson Act’s applicability in the Chino Valley. By 1997, half of the dairies that had been operating in the preserve at its peak had left. The jousting between Ontario and Chino over annexation of the preserve, which had begun in the 1970s, intensified.
In 1999, while there were still 140 dairies operating in Chino Valley, the City of Ontario annexed nearly 8,200 acres of the 15,200 remaining acres in the preserve. Chino laid claim to the other 7,000.
The property annexed to Ontario was initially known as the “New Model Colony.” Later, the development was designated to take place on 8,069-acre in a massive community planned development called Ontario Ranch, to consist of 1,000 acres of public open space, parks and schools that are connected via pathways and trails, together with 47,000 homes to be developed Lewis Homes, Lennar, Brookfield, Ryland Homes, Pulte, Stratham Communities, TRI Point Homes, KB Homes, Woodside Homes, Landsea Homes and Taylor Morrison which are to accommodate roughly and 162,000 residents. Ontario Ranch is to entail 16 million square feet of retail, office, medical and residential space and eight new schools to be built and operated not by the Ontario-Montclair School District but the Mountain View School District.
With virtually all five of the members of the Ontario City Council in the pockets of the development industry, they voted to create a Mello-Roos community facilities district to cover Ontario Ranch and spare Lewis Homes, Lennar, Brookfield, Ryland Homes, Pulte, Stratham Communities, TRI Point Homes, KB Homes, Woodside Homes, Landsea Homes and Taylor Morrison the upfront cost of paying for the infrastructure needed for Ontario Ranch to be developed.
Lennar in its advertising for its Park Lane, Grand Park, Landmark, Beacon, Monument and West Haven subdivisions and Lewis Homes and Stratham Communities in their advertising for their Park Place subdivision, all of which lie within Ontario Ranch, offered potential homebuyers the assurance that buying homes in those areas, under the aegis of the Mello-Roos fee structures that would be layered into their property tax, they would be guaranteed neighborhood schools which their children could attend.
For many of the homebuyers that have now taken up residence in Park Lane, Grand Park, Landmark, Beacon, Monument, West Haven and Park Place, that was a key selling point.
The Park Place and Park Lane neighborhoods both lie within walking distance of Park View School. Earlier this month, parents of children already attending or who have an expectation of attending Park View next year were informed of registration scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on the Ides of March. Given that Park View caters to ten grade levels from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade and has a normal student capacity of 850, it was anticipated that because of the school’s ability to accommodate three classrooms of 27 to 28 students at each grade level on average, all children of that school age living in the Park Place and Park Lane neighborhoods would seamlessly register on March 15, and that the remaining 210 to 280 places for students at the school would go to students living slightly or somewhat more distant from the school who were yet within its attendance boundaries.
On March 14, 25 hours before the registration for student places at Park View School was to begin, parents of students began lining up at the homeowners association office where the registration was scheduled to take place. All of those who were initially lining up and a substantial number of those lining up subsequently were not Park Place or Park Lane residents.
By the time Park Lane and Park Place residents understood what was happening, the line had grown to the point where many were concerned that if they did not themselves get in line, their children would miss out on being able to attend Park View School in the 2023-24 school year entirely. Some of those joined the line. Others, despairing that there children would be able to get into Park View School next year resolved to seek to register their child or children elsewhere.
At least two residents of Park Place approached school district officials, asking if the line that was forming, one in which parents who lived well beyond Park Place or Park Lane and in some cases did not live within the attendance boundaries of Park View School or within the boundaries of the Mountain View School District, was going to be honored by the school district. District officials told those parents the line would not be honored. Residents of the Park Place and Park Lane neighborhoods told district officials that they were concerned, nonetheless, that the situation would not resolve itself and they they were likely to be faced with not being able to get their children registered at Park View School for the upcoming year.
Phone calls were made to the Ontario Police Department about the prospect that those in line would be camping in the park overnight. Police officials said that if a complaint about such activity were to be made, it would be up to the discretion of the individual officers responding to the call.
District officials and homeowner association staff told those assembled in the line that they would not be allowed to remain on homeowner association property, after which the line migrated off of the homeowner association property, with only a limited amount of jostling and discontent among those present as a few who were close to the front of the line found themselves moved slightly further back in the line.
Though camping in city parks is prohibited by ordinance in Ontario, no arrests were made of those camping in the park. The line remained intact throughout the night and into the morning of March 15.
Contrary to the assurances given that the line would not be honored by the district, at 8 a.m. on the morning of March 15, one hour before the processing of applications was scheduled to begin, Mountain View School District Superintendent Dr. Douglass Moss and other district staff members began handing out numbers to those in the line, beginning at the front.
Consequently, an unknown number of children who live in the Park Place and Park Lane neighborhoods will not be attending Park View School in 2023-24. At least some of the parents from the neighborhood persisted in seeking to have their children registered at the school and had their children placed on a waiting list, such that if the parents of some of the students who were successfully registered at Park View withdraw their children, those with the lowest numbers on the waiting list will potentially be admitted.
A Park Place resident, the father of a child who will attend kindergarten a Park View School in the coming year, told the Sentinel his child almost missed the cut, capturing the 47th position of 50 places allotted for kindergartners next year.
“The short version is the Ontario public school, Park View, allowed, for lack of better words, people to engage in illegal activities to assure them a place at the head of the line for this year’s school enrollment. This illegal activity allowed parents from all over and even other districts to camp out in the city park and park illegally, which helped them leapfrog kids who actually live within walking distance from this, their actual assigned school. This is forcing parents to now drive to neighboring sister schools which were likely the assigned schools for the children of the people who were in line and who gamed the system. Their children should be going to those sister schools. I have spoken with more and more parents in Park Place who are very angry about this. Every day that goes by I find out about another family that was affected by this. The number of us who want to do something about it keeps growing.”
Indeed, a burgeoning number of new Ontario residents are acquainting themselves with the political scene, getting a profile on the politicians they see responsible for the way they believe they were exploited by the Mello-Roos process, conned by the development companies that promised purchasing a home in their subdivision would provide them with a neighborhood school for their children, cheated by the California state government that allows Mello-Roos assessment-financed districts to exist, taken advantage of by the Ontario city politicians who took substantial amounts of money from the development companies in the form of contributions to their electioneering funds and then voted to create the assessment districts without ensuring that those who are paying for the infrastructure will be allowed to use it and ill-served by the school board who allowed Dr. Moss and district personnel to conduct a registration process that did not logically reserve space in each school for the students who live closest to that particular school.
As those residents, many of them new to the area become better informed about the political lay of the land, they find their anger concentrated mainly upon the members of the Ontario City Council, which signed off on the creation of the Mello-Roos district, the fees for which they are subject.
In Ontario Ranch, new homes range in price from $490,000 for smaller models to the low $700,000s, with the majority falling between $580,000 and $660,000. In addition to the 1.06 percent property tax all homeowners must pay, those in Ontario Ranch must bear the burden of a host of added fees or assessments for bonds that were passed by voters or otherwise imposed along with a $4,433.11 yearly Mello-Roos assessment. In this way, homeowners in Ontario Ranch typically have annual property tax bills in excess of $11,000.
Since his first successful run for mayor of Ontario in 2005, Paul Leon has received $1,965,915.26 in political donations, of which roughly 54.8 percent, or $1,077,321.56 came from the development and construction industry or those involved in real estate speculation or the development of real estate. Those figures do not include donations made to him for his city council campaigns prior to becoming mayor or his campaign for the California Assembly.
Since becoming an Ontario City Councilman in 1994, Alan Wapner has received into his city council electioneering fund $3,176,023.40, of which roughly 52.7 percent or $1,673,764.33 came from the development and construction industry or those involved in real estate speculation or the development of real estate. Those figures do not include the political donations made to Wapner in his run for the California Assembly.
Since his reentry into politics with his successful 2006 run for the Ontario City Council, Jim Bowman has collected $1,169,690.88 in political donations, of which roughly 44.4 percent or $519,342.75 came from the development and construction industry or those involved in real estate speculation or the development of real estate. Those figures do not include the donations made to Bowman during his previous tenure on the city council in the 1980s and 1990s.
From the time of her first successful run for the city council in 2008, Debra Dorst-Porada has collected in political donations $665,095.16, of which roughly 44.04 percent or $292,907.91 came from the development and construction industry or those involved in real estate speculation or the development of real estate.
Starting with his 2016 campaign for the Ontario City Council, Ruben Valencia has taken in $513,022.08 in political donations, of which roughly 14 percent or $71,823.09 came from the development and construction industry or those involved in real estate speculation or the development of real estate.
There is a perception that a controlling majority of the Ontario City Council is unduly influenced by the development industry and more loyal to the deep-pocketed campaign donors who have invested in the council members’ political careers than they are to their constituents. They point to the council’s failure to layer into the arrangement for the Mello-Roos fee-funded communities facility district in Ontario Ranch any assurance that those who are paying those hefty Mello-Roos fees would be provided with the benefits they are paying for. Moreover, those residents assert that the city council, after having voted to create the Mello-Roos funding arrangement that served the purpose of enriching its members’ campaign donors, shrunk from addressing with the school board the need for guaranteeing that Ontario Ranch homeowners would be provided with the use of the infrastructure they are bearing the cost of constructing.
Mayor Leon rejected the accusation that council had betrayed the homebuyers in Ontario Ranch.
“They are looking for someone to blame,” Leon said. “It is natural to want to blame someone. They point to the police or the city because the district had people camping in the park overnight. Where was school security? It is the school district that is culpable.”
The accusation that he and the balance of the city council have been paid off by the development industry and that he and his council colleagues created the Mello-Roos fee-funded district to transfer the financial burden from his developer patrons to the residents of Ontario Ranch, Leon said, is untrue. “I don’t sell myself to the developers,” he said. “Neither does Debby [Porada].
‘No developer has ever told me I can get money by creating a Mello-Roos district,” Leon continued. “No one has ever asked that question or said I can get money for my campaign if I will give them a Mello-Roos. Mello-Roos districts are a state issue, not a city issue.”
He defended the Mello-Roos concept. “We create the revenue stream, using the Mello-Roos tool, so people who live in those neighborhoods can have the quality of life they want, the landscaping, the sidewalks, the neighborhood schools, the streets and everything else,” Leon said, without dwelling on the question of why the developers could not themselves pay for those amenities up front. “People ask me, ‘How come our neighborhood doesn’t look like Rancho Cucamonga or Eastvale?’ The answer is because the people who own houses in Rancho Cucamonga and Eastvale pay Mello-Roos fees.”
Leon said, “The Mello-Roos model has been going on for more than a generation now. It isn’t just about schools. It generates revenue to pay for landscaping, parks, sidewalks, streets and everything else.”
Leon said the Mountain View School District had failed to utilize the Mello-Roos revenue entrusted to its officials properly.
“They commingled the money and were not using it to build schools,” the mayor said. “So, Alan and I got those guys [the Mountain View School District Board] on a zoom meeting and we told them, ‘If you guys don’t put in a school, we are coming after that money and we will give it to [the] Ontario-Montclair [School District] and they’ll build the damn school. We said do what it takes to put that school in. They put a school in in record time. The thing is, they built the school smaller than it needed to be.”
Leon said, “The truth of the matter is, they are a real irresponsible bunch [the school board] over there, led by Randall Ceniceros. They don’t answer to the city. They are answerable only to the state and the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. They did not listen to the city council. In fact, they have board members who hate us. Randall Ceniceros drags his feet when we tell them what needs to be done. They are completely disrespectful. We have no mechanism, no leverage with them. I can bully them in person, but I can’t promise those people who live down there that I can do anything about what they are angry about. If those parents who couldn’t get their kids into their neighborhood school are mad at the city, they are angry at the wrong level of government. They need to be angry at the school board. Anthony Villaraigosa, when he was mayor [of Los Angeles] tried to take over the schools in Los Angeles. They laughed at him. The school district is just not answerable to us. We have no influence over them. Not only are they culpable, they are incompetent. It’s almost impossible to work with people who are not competent. Someone should tell them, ‘Do your damn jobs. They don’t do anything because they are irresponsible.”
Leon said, “I feel for those people [the parents with children who now attend schools far distant from their homes]. Even though I have no jurisdiction whatsoever, I am angry these people are being marginalized. So, as mayor, I will step up and bring out the stick or carrot, whatever it takes.”
The Sentinel emailed Mountain View board members Chris Taylor, Randall Ceniceros, Ronald Newton, Dr. James Willingham and Michelle Imperial a virtually identical set of questions with regard to what had occurred on March 14 and March 15 and the district’s registration policy, including whether each of them thought it would not be more logical and fair to set a student capacity by grade for students at each of the district’s schools and then reserve that number of spaces for each grade for those students living most proximate to the school and to allow those reserved spaces to fill with students living most proximate to the school, such that if those spaces do not fill, to then, and only then, open those spaces to students in the district living more distant from the school.
The Sentinel also asked the board members if they thought the parents who live close to Parkland School whose children will not be attending Park View School in the upcoming school year because they were outmaneuvered by those willing to borderline break the law by camping out near the school overnight were treated fairly by the district.
The Sentinel asked the school board members if they believed the district, by its registration system, rewarded parents who were willing to push the legal envelope by camping out next to the school or on school property or Homeowner Association property or park property the night before the registration day.
The Sentinel asked the board members if they thought creating a circumstance by which parents had to engage in borderline illegal activity to get their children registered at Park View School for the next school year sent an undesirable message to the children of the district or at least to the children of the district who had to witness their parents or one of their parents skirting the law to get them into school.
None of the board members responded.
Dr. Moss acknowledged that the district had ineffectively prevented the line for registration forming more than 24 hours in advance and that after district officials gave assurances to the Park Place residents that the line would not be honored, they relented and allowed positioning in that line to dictate whether or not the children of those in it would be allowed to get into Park View School.
“We told them they wouldn’t be able to camp there overnight,” Moss said. “We told them where people could be and what would be acceptable. That morning [March 15], I was there before the registration started. I went out and handed everyone a number. As long as they had completed registration material they were processed at the parkhouse based on their number.”
Parents were mistaken if they believed that living proximate to or immediately proximate to a school automatically qualified their children attendance at that school, Moss said.
When you register for school it doesn’t have to do with who is closest,” Moss said. “You are allowed to register at a school if you live within that school’s attendance boundary.”
Moss further indicated that the Mountain View School District does not have what he called “open enrollment,” meaning that students were not free to roam around and attend any school in the district they wished and students from other districts were not free to attend school in the Mountain View School District. Rather he said, each school had attendance boundaries, and those living within those boundaries were obliged to attend that school.
That rule is not firm and fast, he acknowledged.
“If you are within the attendance boundaries of a school, you go to the school to register,” Moss said. “If the school is full, you are able to register any school in the district.”
Moss contradicted parents who insisted otherwise, saying that no students from outside the district and no students living outside of Par View’s attendance boundaries had registered at Park View.
Moss implied, indeed suggested, that the only students registered at Park View School lived within its attendance boundaries. “We don’t accept students from outside the boundaries, either a school’s attendance boundaries or outside the district,” Moss said. “You can’t be from another attendance zone. Only those within Park View’s attendance boundary were allowed to register. That is what is posted on the website. Anyone living within that that attendance boundary can attend there.”
Moss did, however, reluctantly acknowledge that multiple students within the attendance boundary of Ranch View Elementary School had qualified to attend Park View School next year, but he insisted that those students lived “equidistant” from both schools.
No parents had an absolute right to have their children attend any particular school in the district, Moss said.
When confronted with the language contained in the Lennar, Lewis Homes and Stratham Communities advertisements for the homes in the Park Place and Park Lane phases of the Ontario Ranch development that promoted sales of the homes with a claim that there would be a nearby school for children of those neighborhoods to attend, Moss sought to slip out from underneath that commitment by saying, “A lot of people were guaranteed all sorts of things by the developer.”
Similarly, Moss endeavored to sidestep the consideration that those who purchased homes within the Park Place and Park Lane neighborhoods did so under a Mello-Roos taxing arrangement by which they are paying $4,443.17 per year in fees that residents of many other neighborhoods in the city are not paying, and were doing so with the understanding that the extra fees they are paying were to provide them with a neighborhood school.
“The taxes they are paying fund all the schools in the district, not just Park View,” Moss said.
Moss did not address the concerns expressed by many that the district had purposely undersized Park View.
Moss said the jostling over attendance at the district’s schools would resolve itself in the future.
“We have a school that is coming on in 2025-26 and another in 2027-28,” he said.