Redevelopment Grant Timeline of Events

The events of the Tapo Street redevelopment grant issue that have played out during the course of the last election and finally concluded with the business owner returning the grant funds involve a series of letters, information requests and other maneuvers. Mitchell Green, former 2010 City Council Candidate, published a detailed account of how things went and when. He allowed me to republish his post here:

For a time line refresher, Kelly Kolarek’s letter to the editor of July 27, 2012,

http://www.simivalleyacorn.com/news/2012-07-27/Letters/Candidates_not_fit_for_council_seats.html

Doug Crosse announces his suspension of his City Council campaign on August 10, 2012, citing Mr. Kolarek’s “attack letter,”

http://www.simivalleyacorn.com/news/2012-08-10/Letters/Behavior_is_an_election_question.html

September 5, 2012, Doug Crosse files his government claim against Steve Sojka for “cell phone reimbursement misuse” and also files his first public record act request with the City requesting documentation of only the K & J Auto Facade Renovation Grant information.

October 1, 2012, Doug Crosse makes his second Public Record Act request, this time authorizing Scott Santino, Bob Huber’s 2010 campaign manager to pick up the documents from the City.

October 4, 2012, the City prematurely denies Doug Crosse’s government claim regarding Council Member Sojka’s cell phone reimbursement, after sending the small claims matter out to a private firm for an unnecessary opinion costing the City $2,622 in the process at $285 per hour legal billing rate. Which makes no sense when under the Government Code the City needed to do nothing and the claim would have been denied by operation of law with no expense to the City and no conflict of interest to the City Attorney, but the, Doug and friends might not have had enough clown time if the matter had run its proper course. This is a key point of perhaps improper government collusion and, in my opinion, a key weakness as any discussion, communication, e-mail or other correspondence regarding any of this by the City Attorney to anyone but the internal City Attorney’s Office, outside retained counsel for the specific matter, or to the entire City Council in closed session is NOT protected by attorney-client privilege and IS subject to disclosure through the Public Record Act. Unless, of course, a personnel action were to result. Or worse. And guess what folks, you can’t delete e-mails from the City’s hard drive, you can only remove it from visibility. But its still there . . .

October 10, 2012, Doug Crosse files his Grand Jury Complaint with the Ventura County Grand Jury.

October 17, 2012, Doug Crosse holds his TEA Party meeting where he openly brags about the City Attorney calling him to discuss his and the TEA Party’s claim against the City, and he jokes with her about speeding up the denial so he can get on with his lawsuit against the City. Which, remarkably, is just what happened. (Remember, I never would have done this in the 8 years I supervised the civil defense for the City – this is just unheard of). Council Member Mike Judge also attended this meeting.

Also on October 17, 2012, Doug Crosse acknowledges his co-conspirators in his Grand Jury Complaint stunt, as follows,

“Guys like Scott Santino and Ted Mackel don’t get involved in these type of things, my good friend Louis, uh, Pandolfi over there, don’t get involved in things like this except for one reason and that is, we want to hold our government accountable.” Doug Crosse, October 17, 2012

[Editor: speculative remarks removed]

Also on October 17, 2012, Louis Pandolfi posts on Facebook the following “poll”:

“1. Did you vote, or would you support, condominiums in the hills at the gateway to our community, at the Happy Face location?
2. Are you in favor of disbanding “our Police Department, firing our police officers and contracting with the County.”

Then, on October 22, the Robo Calls happen with the following script (notice the quotes and then check again Louis Pandolfi’s “poll” above):

“Dear Neighbor, I’m really concerned about crime in Simi Valley. Did you know that Steve Sojka running for City Council may want to shut down “our police department, fire our police officers, and contract with the county?” Imagine wanting to shut down our fine police department? This is the same Steve Sojka who gave $70,000 of our tax money to a friend and campaign supporter to remodel his used car lot, a matter now before the grand jury. Sojka voted for condominiums in our hills at Happy Face. Sojka talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Its time to get rid of Sojka before he really hurts our community. Thank you. This message is paid for by Justice Political Action Committee.”

Notice the near exact wording between that Louis Pandolfi uses on October 17, 2012 in point 2 and the Robo Call Script? The 12 Magic Words Gate? Perhaps just a coincidence. Also, there is no Justice Political Action Committee, which makes this Robo Call illegal on its face. And, as there is only one used car lot in Simi Valley, with the implication that because it is “now before the grand jury” that it “really hurts our community” the tie in also makes it actionably defamatory and qualifying for punitive damages in its very face. That is, if the identity of the Robo Caller participants is firmly determined to the satisfaction of a court of law.

October 24, 2012, Barbra Williamson and Mike Judge hold a press conference calling on the City to investigate the grant authorized by Steve Sojka and Glen Becerra.

October 29, 2012, Doug Crosse waives his broom in City Council chambers, giving proper witch hunt imagery to his political stunt.

November 1, 2012, the Ventura County Grand Jury announces that it is declining to investigate the complaint prepared and filed by Doug Crosse and endorsed by the Simi Valley Moorpark TEA Party. Grand Jury foreman Jay Whitney later spoke with the Ventura County Star, where he “characterized the letter as essentially a form letter, saying it should not be interpreted as meaning that the jury made any findings as to possible criminal violations with the grant.”

November 19, 2012, City Council on motion by Barbra Williamson, directs City Staff to meet with Doug Crosse to discuss his concerns regarding the K & J grant. On November 20, 2012, Doug Crosse in an interview with the Star, states that he hopes the meeting will be open to the public. “ “I will cooperate in any way I’m able to,” he said. “I’m glad that at least it’s moving in some direction.” He added that he would like his meeting with city staff members to be open to the public.”

On December 3, 2012, Assistant City Manager Brian Gabler informs Mr. Kolarek’s representative that they are not welcome at the meeting as it is “not open to the public.”

On December 4, 2012, Doug Crosse, Ted Mackel, Tom Mackel, Louis Pandolfi, and Barbra Williamson met with City Manager Laura Behjan and Assistant City Manager Brian Gabler, and instead of discussing the City’s procedures as was the basis of the motion passed by the City Council, a member of the group instead implies Mr. Kolarek committed fraud while others demanded additional documentation not authorized by the Participation Agreement, which demands were promptly adopted by City manager Behjan. Note: this paragraph was edited to emphasize that not all members of the group accused Mr. Kolarek of fraud after I received a threat of lawsuit. The individual heard prominently suggesting fraud was Louis Pandolfi. The audio of the meeting and the lawsuit threat will be posted later today for full disclosure and clarification.

On December 6, 2012, Assistant City Manager Brian Gabler writes to Mr. Kolarek and on behalf of the City, adopts the demand of the TEA Party group, demanding the documents from Mr.Kolarek that the TEA Party group demanded from the City on December 4. Mr. Kolarek, through representatives, declines to participate.

On December 17, 2012, Jared Held, TEA Party Vice President, posts on Facebook copies of K & J Auto business checks with bank name, address and account numbers unredacted. The City later confirms that it erroneously released copies of the checks to Doug Crosse in violation of its own policies.

On December 19, 2012, Mr. Kolarek chooses to return the grant money.

And yet, the TEA Party continues its attacks.

This concludes Mr. Green’s remarks and I appreciate his permission to repost this content.

Huber’s 20 Point Plan

Doug Crosse is an outspoken Simi Valley community leader and former candidate for Simi Valley City Council. As he gets acclimated to the social media world, it’s evident that he has a lot to say about Simi Valley issues. Earlier today, he emailed me an article regarding Mayor Huber’s 20 point plan for Simi Valley. What follows is an excerpt and a link to the full article.

Since the deep recession of the early 1990s triggered by post-Cold War defense cuts, Simi Valley has evolved from industrial center to bedroom community to small-business hub.

Now, Mayor Bob Huber wants to reinvent the city as what you might call Simi Valley 4.0, combining the best parts of its past but bringing more of a startup and tech culture to the region’s second-largest city. He took the wraps off his vision in an Economic Strategic Plan that was presented to City Council on Aug. 13.

The 20-point plan includes developing an online permit process to automate and speed simple projects for homeowners, contractors and small businesses. He also wants to borrow some ideas from San Diego County, which pioneered a concierge style approach to helping property owners and developers navigate the permit process with a one-stop-shopping approach.

Read this article in its entirety by clicking here. Thanks to Doug Crosse for providing the details.

Chief Lewis Defends the SVPD

I’m used to taking the unpopular position, so I’ll go ahead and say this: I don’t believe the SVPD has done anything wrong in their handling of the Takasugi fraud case, the controversial criminal complaint regarding Mayor Huber’s former law associate. And these aren’t just my miscellaneous thoughts on the subject. I believe I have asked the right people the right questions to better understand the situation as well as the investigative process and required resources for such cases.

Even though I was on vacation last week, I was still tuned in enough to be thoroughly disappointed when the Ventura County Star decided to run another story on the SVPD where the City Council requests a third party investigation on their handling of the Takasugi case. The story shed no light on any new facts or information and seemed to only keep the topic fresh on the minds of Simi Valley readers. I wasn’t the only one who saw it this way.

Chief Mike Lewis has drafted a response to be published in the Ventura County Star. He lays out the facts regarding the timeline of events as well as the resources allocated to the investigation. Understandably, his frustration is evident regarding the story’s constant revival in our local paper.

When we’re not in the midst of an election cycle, I’m proud to say that I’m a supporter of our City Council. But I don’t always agree with every stand they take, either as a unified Council or individually. I hope that our City Council can let this issue rest for now and I think they really have since mentioning this issue several weeks back. Even better, I’d hope the Ventura County Star can ease up until there’s something new and relevant to report. There’s an awful lot we don’t know about how these cases are investigated, not to mention an even bigger issue regarding available resources and concerns about mandatory job rotations. Rather than open Pandora’s box, I propose we all rest easy and let this play itself out.

Here are Chief Mike Lewis’s thoughts on the matter:

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

For many weeks now, the 195 fine men and women of the Simi Valley Police Department have been maligned regarding the alleged delay of a complex fraud investigation.  Normally, our internal review and a subsequent request for an investigation (which was declined) by the District Attorney’s Office would be sufficient to quell any questions regarding the allegation of an inappropriate action, in this case the intentional delay in completing an investigation.  However, this particular issue seems to have taken on a life of its own, and I will not silently stand by while the integrity of my officers and support staff is continually impugned for questionable purposes.

A review of the facts are as follows:

Beate Kirmse, administrator for the estate of Oscar Muro, filed a criminal complaint on October 19, 2010, alleging attorney Russell Takasugi, embezzled funds from the estate of Mr. Muro.  This was 14 days before the recent City elections.  An article reporting this criminal complaint appeared in the Ventura County Star on October 25.  This was one week before the election.

When this complaint was filed, our lead expert economic crimes investigator was out of the office for an extensive training class to prepare him for a new position as the Department’s lead homicide investigator.  A law enforcement agency must constantly review its workload and allocate resources based upon priority of the type of investigation and our detectives’ current caseload.  Based upon this review, our Investigative Unit made the decision to wait until our lead investigator returned from training to assist a newer detective with the investigation of this particular case.  There were no exigent circumstances requiring immediate action such as the destruction of evidence.

Fraud and embezzlement cases are very complex and require hundreds of records, including bank statements and other types of documentation, which must be subpoenaed from banks, trusts, estate attorneys, etc., before a case may be presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review. Investigations of this nature typically take many months, even years, to complete based upon the complexity.  Only after an investigation is complete would there be any information released to the public.

We are now a full six weeks into this investigation, and it will probably take several more months to complete.  If I had put my entire Investigative Unit on this case when it was first received, there would have been nothing to report before the election and this investigation would still be ongoing.  As the head of this agency, it is my professional opinion, based upon knowing all of the facts, that the Department took the proper steps in an appropriate timeframe.  For some to suggest otherwise is nothing more than an attempt to keep this “story” in the news with unfounded claims of biased policing.

The constant rehashing of this story smacks of Police Department bashing.  In fact, much of this story is attributed to second hand comments reportedly made by a civil attorney during a probate hearing in Superior Court.  The repeated assertion that there is a “black cloud” over our Department comes from not knowing all of the facts and not allowing the City Manager to complete his review and report back to the City Council with his findings.  I have already stated my desire to have full transparency on this issue and once again pledge to the community of Simi Valley that a review is welcomed.

As the Chief of Police, I am proud to state that I stand with the investigators who are diligently working this investigation; unequivocally support their decisions made, and the Department’s handling of this case.  As with all of the calls for service we receive, this case will be handled with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism because this purported dark cloud truly has a silver lining composed of the 195 dedicated staff who make up the Simi Valley Police Department.

Mike Lewis, Chief of Police
Simi Valley Police Department

New Planning Commissioners

New Planning Commissioners were appointed this evening. Councilman Glen Becerra reappointed Mary Bibb to the Planning Commission. Newly elected Councilman Mike Judge nominated Kenneth Rice, long term Simi Valley resident. Both were unanimously voted in to the Planning Commission.

Mayor Bob Huber nominated Scott Santino who was his Campaign Chair during the Mayoral campaign. The Mayor introduced Santino, discussing his background as a businessman and long time contributor to the community through various community organizations. Scott Santino’s appointment was not unanimous, with votes of opposition from Councilman Glen Becerra and Councilman Steve Sojka. No official word from either on why they voted no, but I suspect members of the press will chase them down for questions and publish something official later in the week.

There has been a lot of speculation from insiders during the past several weeks regarding Santino’s appointment to the Planning Commission. It’s widely believed that Santino intends to run for City Council in two years. Two years of service on the Planning Commission can be beneficial for a hopeful candidate for City Council. Councilwoman Barbra Williamson served on the Planning Commission before being elected to the Council, and former candidate Keith Mashburn was also a Planning Commissioner when he threw his hat in the ring last summer. Being a business owner and Planning Commissioner looks favorable on a ballot, not to mention the added benefit of two years of name recognition and experience in City business.

Though just a rumor at this point, the next election cycle could be just as interesting as the last if Scott Santino runs. He would likely draw the same support from the POA. I plan to stock up on blood pressure medication!

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.

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.