DA Declines to Investigate

District Attorney Greg Totten opted not to investigate the allegations that the Simi Valley Police Department intentionally delayed the investigation of the Takasugi fraud case to shield the campaign of Bob Huber, newly elected Mayor and former partner of Takasugi. This comes as no surprise to me at all. Last weekend, I spoke about what caused the delay to occur in the first place which seemed pretty legitimate from my standpoint. Plus, others who are more well versed in these matters also shared with me that even if the investigation were intentionally delayed, regardless of the reason, that would not represent a crime, ultimately leaving the County District Attorney with little to say about it.

According to the article in the Ventura County Star:

In a letter sent to Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell, Totten cited a number of reasons for not pursuing it, including the fact that such conduct would not constitute a crime even if true.

The Ventura County Star indicated at the end of the article that the story is developing. I’ll go ahead and suggest that it isn’t going to go much farther than this. With Bob Huber now sworn in as Mayor, stories like this will stop appearing, or when they do appear they will die quickly. The new City Council has already spoken openly about moving forward. In time, everyone else will follow their lead and will stop chasing stories like these. They’re fantasies dreamed up by people with agendas.

Having said that, let’s move on…

Our New City Council

Tonight, we’ll get to see our new City Council Members sworn in. Regardless of your position throughout the campaigns, this must be exciting for most of us who follow these matters. Well, at least it is for me. Tonight we’ll see how our choices at the polls translate into real life action as the folks we voted in take their seats.

This will be an emotional evening. Mayor Paul Miller is retiring after decades of service to the community. I don’t want to see him go. Two years ago, I produced artwork and posted signs for an underdog candidate for Mayor who ran against him for no other reason than to attempt to break-up what I referred to as the “status quo” and what I perceived to be Mayor Miller’s easy, unchallenged ride back into his seat. Even the candidate who challenged him agreed that Miller was doing it right, agreeing with him on almost every point during the candidate forums. I realized when he was easily re-elected that I had more to learn about Paul Miller before I could comfortably say he wasn’t the choice for Mayor. I will miss Paul Miller.

Michelle Foster will also be stepping down, handing her seat over to newly elected Councilman Mike Judge. Foster’s campaign for re-election was clean and steady. In what has been described as an anti-incumbent atmosphere, this election cycle had to be tough for both Foster and Becerra. But Foster’s passion for the community is such that I predicted she wouldn’t get overly aggressive, attack her opponents or do anything that could be perceived as negative. And she didn’t. One could speculate that she’s stepping down as a result of that, but one can only speculate. The fact is that she is stepping down in the same positive light and with the same stellar reputation with which she joined the Council. Though she won’t be sitting at the dais, her work will almost certainly continue.

Miller and Foster will be saying their good-bye’s this evening at 5:00PM at City Council Chambers. I work out of town, but will be trying my best to get there to see them off. Hopefully some of you can do the same.

City Councilman Mike Judge and Mayor Bob Huber will be sworn in this evening. Both of these new members of the Council have indicated publicly via interviews or through community channels that they intend to put Simi Valley’s best interests first. Both have discussed reuniting the council after what could be described as a heated battle. I believe them and look forward to seeing what they bring to the table and how they serve the community. The swearing in begins tonight at 7:30PM at City Council Chambers.

DA Reviews Takasugi/SVPD Issue

The VC Star is reporting that District Attorney Totten is reviewing the allegation that the Simi Valley Police delayed the Takasugi fraud investigation until after the Mayoral election. Of course, the suggestion here is that Takasugi’s former partner, Mayor-elect Bob Huber, was protected by the SVPD by this move.

As someone who was outspokenly against the Bob Huber campaign in the final months of the campaign cycle, I immediately took notice when these headlines appeared. However, there are two things to consider before rushing to judgment: 1) what is motivating the attorney to make those statements and 2) how normal is a 3 week training period for an investigator (the official cause for the delay of the investigation).

Regarding the attorney who made the allegation in court, Roger Stanard, he’s probably quite effective at his job. If an attorney can identify a situation like the Takasugi and Huber relationship, as well as the heated election for Simi Valley Mayor, it won’t take much time for him to determine that he benefits to make an issue of it. He can comfortably make the accusation and know that the sensitive topic of our election will result in headlines which could easily result in an investigation or review by the DA. This is just cause for a continuance, where the attorney can have more time to prepare, or better yet, leverage all evidence obtained by a police investigation that is suddenly pushed forward due to public pressure. So far, this only tells us that the victims in this case have a very skilled attorney.

Keep in mind, the attorney was armed with the details of this case since June, but waited until 2 weeks before the election to file the crime report. It’s a fair bet that he knew what he was doing..

On to the other point, there are plenty who believe the Simi PD’s explanation that the investigator was in the middle of 3 weeks of training is just an excuse. It’s actually quite believable that training is something that causes unwanted delays from time to time, and it’s very believable that this is something that can continue to happen in the future. To better understand, you need to consider the basis of the Simi Valley POA contract dispute. Although I don’t know the finer details, I do have some insight at a high level that I’ve put together from input from both sides of the dispute.

Our City believes that the Police Department should implement mandatory rotation of job specialties. For example, a homicide detective might rotate into a position as a fraud investigator after a set period of time. This would give the detective multiple skills and provide redundancy and backup in the department. However, the department looks at this unfavorably. For them, it prevents them from sharpening their skills to the finest because they are effectively switching jobs. They require training on every rotation. Some detectives look for careers outside of the SVPD because of this.

Here’s the inside story on the delays in the Takasugi case. A seasoned homicide detective recently retired because he didn’t want to rotate. Another homicide detective was recently promoted. This opens two homicide positions. There are two “white collar crime” detectives, one of whom recently left, also due to the unfavorable position on rotations. The other took one of the open homicide detective positions. This new homicide detective is important here, so remember him as I continue.

With homicide partially covered, a new detective was needed to cover the now open white collar crimes investigations. The new “white collar crime” detective is a newly promoted patrol officer. This case goes to him. As a new detective, he needs to lean on someone with the expertise in cases like these. The new detective’s mentor? That would be the new homicide detective mentioned above, recently moved from his previous “white collar crime” position. Unfortunately, he was in training, in two different schools in fact. One of them was for investigating homicides.

The training situation is true… not an excuse. And it’s reflective of a serious problem in our department. Blaming either the City or the PD for the problem seems much less relevant to me than fixing the problem.

Regarding the Takasugi case, regardless of when the investigation starts, should have started, or if it has already started, everyone agrees that there appears to be a crime that has been committed. Since a criminal report has been filed and an investigation is about to happen, it’s almost a sure thing that justice will be served and he will be arrested. As to whether or not Takasugi will be indicted, that will be up to the District Attorney. And as far as whether or not Takasugi will suffer civil damages, my suspicion is that Attorney Roger Stanard will be very effective at making that happen.

Barbra’s Expansion Presentation

Word for word, these are Barbra Williamson’s comments from City Council last night:

As a 40 year resident of this community, I feel compelled to comment on recent actions taken by Waste Management as a part of their aggressive campaign to turn Simi Valley into a “mega dump” for Los Angles garbage.  I am completely stunned by the false and inconsistent comments made by Waste Management.

At the same time they are promising the community transparency and claiming a willingness to address the impacts of their proposed expansion of the dump on Simi Valley, they are strong-arming our Mayor and City Manager with promises of discussions that never happened and documents that never were created.

Let me point our specifically what I mean.  In Waste Management’s court filing presented to the judge on November 15, 2010, they acknowledge their understanding of the clear separation of my role on the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force, and my position as a member of the City Council Member.

In their statement of fact they write, and I quote, “The Simi Valley Landfill Task Force is not associated with, or acting on behalf of, the City of Simi Valley.  The Landfill Task Force is an unincorporated community group.  Although Barbra Williamson is both an officer of the Task

Force and a sitting Simi Valley City Council Member, SHE IS NOT ACTING IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A COUNCIL MEMBER BY PUIRSUING THIS LAWSUIT” unquote.  On this point I could not agree with them more, but they seem to speak out of both sides of their mouth.

In their own words, Waste Management repeatedly promises our community openness and transparency yet they say one thing in their court filings and another in their press releases and letter to the city.

The day after they told a judge I was NOT acting in  my official capacity as a Council Member,  these same people issue a press release in which they stated, and I quote, “The actions of Council  Member Williamson and her Task Force are confusing” unquote.  Then they send a letter to City Manager Mike Sedell calling off mitigation discussions they had promised to hold with Mayor Paul Miller and the City Manager who were OFFICIALLY appointed by the City Council to meet and come up with a plan that would work for both Waste Management and the residents of Simi Valley.

They claim in their letter to Mr. Sedell that, and I quote, “recent actions taken by one of your city Councilmember’s have created serious obstacles to continue discussions with the city”, unquote.  The recent action they are referring to is the request filed by the Task force for legal clarification regarding the County of Ventura’s processing of the Application for Expansion of the Simi Valley Landfill.

I believe it is clear that any questions regarding my role as a Council Member and my efforts to bring together concerned residents as part of the Simi Valley Landfill Expansion Task Force have been addressed.  I trust my colleagues will agree that Waste Management’s actions are a blatant effort to deflect the real issues facing the community and to avoid having an honest and thorough discussion of the impact this expansion will have on Simi Valley for years and years to come.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Mayor and fellow Council members, tonight we have an opportunity to stop the sound bites and the he-said she said game playing and give the people of Simi Valley a truly transparent discussion and offer Waste Management the opportunity to maintain their previous relationship with the City of Simi Valley.

To that end Mr. Mayor, I would like at this time to make a motion that we place a discussion of the impacts of the proposed landfill expansion on the next City Council Agenda.

Thank you.

Waste Management Under Fire

Waste Management took some heat from citizens last night at the City Council meeting. Most notably was Louis Pandolfi, Landfill Expansion Task Force member and outspoken opponent of the expansion. He took on the issue of the recent press release from WM regarding their choice to longer participate in City discussions resulting from the lawsuit filed by the Task Force.

Mayor-elect Bob Huber spoke as well, identifying WM as a large Texas billion dollar corporation that produced a press release that he found offensive, standing up for Councilwoman Williamson’s right to free speech. Additional speakers suggested alternatives to the large landfill regarding waste disposal, like new state of the art facilities for disposal as well as rail transport to ship waste to landfills outside of Simi Valley.

The number of folks there to speak out in favor of Waste Management: ZERO!

During Council Comments, Barbra Williamson took a few minutes to recite a prepared presentation on her thoughts regarding Waste Management’s recent position. It was a strong, moving statement that I would like to share with you hear. I’m hoping to have a transcript of the presentation later this afternoon.

It’s a terrible position that we’re in as the approval deadline approaches for this landfill. From my observations, the landfill expansion has been surrounded by a mix-up of fear inducing statements and confusing, sometimes conflicting figures. Most people have taken either a firm pro or anti position against the landfill, but for those who want to study the facts and make an educated decision, it’s difficult. Every seemingly credible source is easily followed up by another just as credible source with conflicting data. With one side suing the other, and the other side now refusing to participate, clarity does not seem likely any time soon.

As an added note, Councilwoman Foster’s remarks regarding annexation seemed dead-on to me. Annexation cannot occur without willing participation from the land owner — Waste Management. With that said, as a City we should be laying the pressure on the County Board of Supervisors to ensure that we are represented.

Video Evidence: Sign Thefts

I’m glad the election is over. While it may not have been as heated as other elections in other areas, it was bad enough for Simi Valley. One of the most memorable moments for me will always be the theatrics surrounding sign thefts. The accusations from supporters on all sides, the letters to the editor, and the blog and forum comments on the topic were heated, to say the least. The editorial in the Acorn regarding the stakeout of the Huber for Mayor sign yielded an even number of people both agreeing and disagreeing with what happened with that incident.

I think its a fair assumption that considering the obvious support Bob Huber’s campaign had from the Simi Valley Police Officers Association, his signs were considered a bit more sacred to those on the POA. That’s something that has been hotly disputed, but the videos I found recently I believe are further evidence of that. I’d bet comfortably that the POA doesn’t have any video evidence of sign thefts of any other candidate. Admittedly, I have no details on how these videos were obtained.

A YouTube user named svpdpoa401 uploaded the following three videos. The quality is somewhat poor because it appears to be video shot of a video monitor playing the actual videos. The producer of the videos included amusing title cards and upbeat rock music. The origin and background of the video is unknown because the metadata on the uploads contains no detailed descriptions. However, you’ll clearly see hooligans swiping Huber signs and running away.

Waste Management Requests Lawsuit Dismissal

Waste Management is requesting a dismissal of the lawsuit filed against them by the Landfill Task Force according to a statement released by Waste Management. WM is confused by the move and objects to the Task Force’s position. Here are a few of their remarks:

We continue to believe what we’ve always believed since the beginning of this project: that all Ventura County groups, residents and business people, and especially all Simi Valley residents, should expect us to be open and transparent about the project. And we have lived up to that.

Those comments, attributed to Mike Smith, Director of Operations for WM in Ventura County, were followed by these regarding the Task Force’s position on the legality of the expansion project:

The actions of Councilmember Williamson and her Task Force are confusing. We have been meeting with Councilmember Williamson and her Task Force since 2007 under the assumption that they were interested in making this a good project that would work for Simi Valley. Then, they file a lawsuit against the County and WM.
Then, they ask us to debate them while the lawsuit is awaiting a decision by the courts. Now, Councilmember Williamson tells the media that the Task Force isn’t suing us, even though they obviously are.

John Newell, Waste Management Corporate Counsel, concluded the statement with this to say about their plans for this case and the legality of the expansion:

WM, in our filing, is asking that the Court dismiss the lawsuit completely. This request is based on the undisputed facts that the proposed project is subject to a reimbursment agreement between the County and WM (i.e., the County is not spending taxpayer dollars) and that an independent body, CalRecycle has already determined that the project is properly described within the County Siting Element.

Simply put, the Task Force’s lawsuit fails on the facts and the law.

No word yet on how the Landfill Task Force intends to respond.

The statement can be read in its entirety by clicking here.