San Bernardino City Manager Charles Montoya Terminated

The San Bernardino City Council voted this evening to terminate City Manager Charles Montoya, slightly more than six months after his October 2023 hiring. The vote to do so was made unanimously, citing no cause for the action, which will allow Montoya to collect the severance specified in his contract.
Montoya’s sacking comes less than four months after he unilaterally signed a letter of intent with the San Francisco-based bond underwriting firm Stifel in preparation of the issuance of some $120 million in municipal bonds to be utilized for various improvement and infrastructure projects in the city, including the seismic retrofitting of City Hall, which has been shuttered since 2017.
Montoya, who was previously employed as the city manager of Watsonville in California and was the town manager of Florence, Arizona and the city manager of Avondale, Arizona, the finance director and treasurer with the Town of Castle Rock in Colorado, the chief financial officer for both Centennial, Colorado and Jefferson County, Colorado, was hired in October after a city manager recruitment effort in the spring and summer of 2023 that attracted 57 applicants. That headhunting effort was marred by multiple glitches, including some shifting attitudes with regard to ending the recruitment altogether and settling on hiring the interim city manager who had managed the city previously, Charles McNeely. McNeely’s early sentiment against taking the permanent position, followed by his change of heart to wanting to step out of retirement to again take on the top administrative role in the city he left in 2012, along with the commitment the council had made to not hire the interim city manager into the full-time post, thwarted his belated candidacy.
An effort by Mayor Helen Tran to have the council accede to hiring her one-time boss when she had been the human resources director in West Covina, former West Covina City Manager David Carmany for a time interrupted the city manager hiring process. The council as early as July seemed to have reached a consensus to hire Stockton City Manager Harry Black, but a lack of security with regard to the firm the city hired to carry out the recruitment, Berkeley-based Koff & Associates, resulted in Black withdrawing his application.
In August, the recruitment effort at last seemed to have settled into a consensus that the best the city could do was to hire Salinas City Manager Steve Carrigan, with the mayor and four of the council strongly favoring him and one councilman willing to go along, while two council members believed the city should redouble its efforts to find a more satisfactory candidate. The council was scheduled to finalize the decision to hire Carrigan, but once again, Koff & Associates was unable to maintain confidentiality around the identity of the leading candidat. For reasons that are yet unclear, the city postponed the official of Carrigan, who remained twisting in the wind between the end of August and his scheduled official hiring on October 4. In that temporal gap, his application for the San Bernardino job became known to his political masters on the city council in Salinas, at which point Carrigan lost his nerve and withdrew as a candidate in San Bernardino.
Thus, Montoya was chosen not as the first or even second or third choice but rather as someone elevated up the list when others did not take the assignment they had applied for. It is unclear whether other candidates who had applied for the job were offered the post prior to the city council finally consenting to Montoya’s hiring in October.
When he arrived in November, Montoya set about impressing the city council with his can-do attitude and energetic approach, seeking to address longstanding issues that he said had been festering because of bureaucratic and political malaise and procrastination. He set about having staff analyze problems and challenges the city faced, often initiating preliminary action or laying groundwork for decisive moves to be taken in an effort to demonstrate his ability to engage in the four principles of management: planning, organizing, directing and controlling. This this approach was appreciated by some members of the council, who felt decisive action with regard to certain problems was called for. It was further appreciated that Montoya was not adhering to the direction of one dominant member of the city’s decisionmakers, such as had been the case with former City Manager Bob Field and former Mayor John Valdivia. There was also some confidence that with his financial expertise, Montoya was providing sound guidance while overseeing a city that had declared bankruptcy in 2012 and had not exited from that status until 2017.
Nevertheless, in much of his approach, Montoya was presuming upon the acceptance of his action being done in good faith and that the mayor and both the individual council members and the council as a whole would view his taking action without their explicit consent, based upon his own independent judgment as not only justifiable but not being disrespectful of their authority. Very early on, this approach opened up a schism on the council, with Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin and Councilman Ben Reynoso in particular, believing that Montoya was overstepping his authority.
Montoya appeared to be safe in the niche he had created for himself, since there was a growing and intensifying estrangement between Calvin and the rest of the council. As Montoya, too, was on the outs with Calvin, he and the council majority, primarily Councilman Ted Sanchez, Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra, Councilman Juan Figueroa and Councilman Fred Shorett, along with Mayor Tran, generally hewed to one side, while Calvin increasingly found herself isolated or with the support, on-again and off-again, of Councilman Reynoso and Councilman Damon Alexander. It thus appeared that Montoya had carved out for himself a safe haven within the administrative quarters of City Hall, which had relocated from the actual City Hall to offices within the immediately adjacent Vanir Tower in downtown San Bernardino.
Notefully, it was the effort to reestablish City Hall, which was constructed in 1972 without adhering to the then-newly formulated seismic standards put in place in the aftermath of the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake.
Montoya appears to have presumed that the full council was in support of the retrofit, the estimated cost of which had escalated from $8 million, to $16 million, to $21 million, to $36 million, to $74 million, to $79 million, to $81 million, to roughly $120 million in a little over six years.
An issue that raised itself was Montoya’s relationship with the bond underwriting firm of Stifel, with which he had numerous past dealings in his various municipal capacities elsewhere. Over the past two decades, Stifel had realized in excess of $27 million in fees based upon projects which utilized funding structured by Stifel in the various cities where Montoya worked.

Grandstanding & Overcharging On Villaseñor Case Leaves DA Without Plea Deal Leverage

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office is running out of options as the viability of a successful prosecution against 18-year-old Sebastian Bailey Villaseñor on attempted murder charges has dimmed to virtual nonexistence and both he, his family and his legal defense team are not disposed to accepting any sort of plea deal on lesser charges, given the treatment accorded him thus far.
A string of miscues and miscalculations, exacerbated by miscommunication between District Attorney Jason Anderson, one of his supervising deputy district attorneys and one of his deputy prosecutors has created a situation in which what might have been the most logical resolution of the matter – having the autistic high school student obtain the mental health treatment those around him virtually universally agree he is in need of – is becoming increasingly unlikely. Having overcharged the youth with crimes, the elements of which both investigators and several deputy prosecutors now acknowledge cannot be established as having occurred, and subjecting him for three months to incarceration with a host of hardened criminals without any prospect for release, prosecutors are now confronted with the recognition that the shortsighted cure they autocratically insisted on applying has created a confounding legal and social circumstance that cannot be untangled without shedding discredit on both Anderson and the prosecutor’s office.
Villaseñor, of Eastvale, was a senior at Ontario Christian High School when he was arrested on February 10 on suspicion of having violated PC 422(A) – engaging in threats of violence. Continue reading

Fresno Superior Court To Remain As Venue Over San Bernardino Mountain H2O Dispute

By Amanda Frye
(Thursday, May 16 5:27 PM)
On May 15, a Fresno County Superior Court judge denied the State of California’s request to have BlueTriton’s Arrowhead Water Cease and Desist Order appeal case heard in San Bernardino County. Following a multi-year investigation and lengthy administrative hearing, the State Water Resource Control Board issued a cease-and-desist order on September 19, 2023 to BlueTriton, the owner of the Arrowhead Spring Water bottling operation, to stop unauthorized water diversions from Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest. The following month, BlueTriton filed an appeal in Fresno County citing an obscure law that allowed matters pertaining to the state government to be heard in any county where the California Attorney General has an office.
The California Attorney General’s Office, maintaining that the parties most interested in the outcome of the appeal live in San Bernardino County and that they were put at a disadvantage and inconvenience by the matter being adjudicated in a venue 270 miles away.
Deputy Attorney General Daniel Fuchs, who serves in the Natural Resources Law Section of the attorney general’s office, argued that the case must be moved under the Code of Civil Procedure, which he cited in his argument before Fresno County Superior Court Judge Robert Whalen, Jr.
“The superior court in the county where the real property that is the subject of the action, or some part thereof, is situated, is the proper court for the trial of . . . the recovery of real property, or of an estate or interest therein, or for the determination in any form, of that right or interest, and for injuries to real property,” according to Fuchs, who specifically referenced The Code of Civil Procedure  § 392, subd. (a)(1). “The ‘clear meaningm of this section is that the court with subject- matter jurisdiction in the ‘proper’ county is the only court with jurisdiction to try the action…Here, that county is San Bernardino.” Furthermore, Fuchs asserted BlueTriton’s court petition alleges a claim “in real property” because the “petition alleges that BlueTriton possesses a water right … associated with real property in San Bernardino County” and “alleges interference with a property right.” Fuchs states “There is no allegation of any property interest in Fresno County” in asserting that San Bernardino County Superior Court is the proper venue for the case. Continue reading

Just Terminated SB Finance Director Questions City Manager’s Bond Issuance Intent

By Mark Gutglueck
The poorly-hidden fracture on the city council that has for months accompanied a simmering dispute over the fate of San Bernardino’s seismically challenged City Hall loomed into stark relief Wednesday, revealing that the city’s finance director, who has been in place for more than three years, had been given her walking papers by the city manager, who has been in place less than a fourth of the time that she has.
Brought home in the contretemps is deep concern that some city officials have had that a dozen years after San Bernardino it was forced by dire fiscal circumstance into Chapter Nine Bankruptcy protection and less than seven years after having made a shaky exit from that status, City Manager Charles Montoya is locking the city into a financing arrangement with a bond company which will leave the city encumbered in debt for a half century to come.
Montoya’s sacking of Barbara Germaine Whitehorne, San Bernardino’s director of finance from February 2021 to July 2022 who has served in the dual capacities of director of finance and management services from July 2022 until this week, was made on the spur of the moment as she confronted him with regard to what she saw as his open-ended commitment to working with the bond underwriting firm of Stifel.
At this point, questions are emerging about Montoya’s past and ongoing relationship with the firm. While previously he had been able to maintain the confidence of a substantial majority of the city council, the precipitous move against Whitehorne has raised the potential of a more thorough examination of questions Montoya had previously dodged, creating a situation that extends to, perhaps, the presumption of his continuing tenure as city manager. Continue reading

Young Siblings Drown In Ice-Melt Engorged, Swift Moving Santa Ana River North Of Yucaipa

Two toddlers perished on May 7 after they were swept away by the swift moving water near the headwaters of the Santa Ana Rivers.
The normally placid and slow-moving stream had been widened and intensified by cascading the spring melting of snowpack in the San Bernardino Mountains.
According to a May 7 informational release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, “On Tuesday, May 6, 2024, at approximately 1:45 P.M., a mother took her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to spend the afternoon at the Thermun Flats Picnic Area. The mother and her children were playing near the river with rapid water moving downstream. At approximately 3:01 P.M., the mother was attending to her son when her daughter was taken downstream. The mother searched for her but could not locate her. When she returned, her son was missing and assumed to be down river as well. After frantically searching, she hiked up to the picnic area and contacted another family to help search for the children.” Continue reading