Is Common Decency Possible in Moreno Valley?

Is Common Decency Possible in Moreno Valley?
Paulette Brown-Hinds, PHD

Paulette Brown-Hinds, PHD

Earlier this week, I received an email from Darrell, a reader and resident of Moreno Valley, someone I have known for ten years and who was actively involved in Moreno Valley’s last big election. Like many concerned citizens, he is worried about the potential conflicts of interest that seem to haunt the members of the Moreno Valley City Council.

As a concerned citizen of the Inland Empire and someone who has seen Moreno Valley grow from unincorporated Sunnymead to the city we see today, I am sharing Darrell’s letter as part of an ongoing conversation on Common Decency, a campaign to promote a government that is free of corruption and inequality and demand decent behavior from our elected representatives:

A lot of interesting things are going on in Moreno Valley. Last night our group served Councilman Yxstian Gutierrez a recall notice and on May 12th Councilman Jeffrey Giba was served a recall notice. The people of Moreno Valley are sick and tired of Big Money influencing their elections. In the last election cycle, Yxstian Gutierrez was provided over $167,000 through an independent expenditure committee that was created and funded through Highland Fairview, the developer behind the World Logistics Center. During the same election cycle Jeffrey Giba was provided over $254,000 through an independent expenditure committee that was created and funded through Highland Fairview. 

Last night at the city council meeting and about two hours after Councilman Gutierrez was served his recall notice, a group of World Logistics Center supporters and self-identified friends of the World Logistics Center developer and Highland Fairview CEO, Iddo Benzeevi, served Councilman Price and Councilwoman Jempson recall notices in retaliation. 

Recall actions are our only defense against Citizens United and how it negatively impacts our local elections and policies. Moreover, before each recall was initiated we provided each city council member with the Moreno Valley Against Corruption Act, a proposed ordinance that would limit the influence that big money has in our local politics. This proposal was ignored by each city council member. 

I believe that this grassroots effort to extinguish Big Money influence from our political process may have enough steam to get national attention. During Robert Reich’s visit at UCR, I asked him what he thought about a “Recall Big Money” campaign to combat Citizens United, his answer, “It will have to be a movement.” 

Sent as an attachment to the letter were a series of screen shots including one of a “closed Facebook group” called CARE Moreno Valley, which seems to have been created as an online forum described as “citizens against recalling elections” but clearly from the images and content it supports the World Logistics Center. Three of the five city council members are members of the closed group: Gutierrez, Giba and Molina. My first thought was that this is a possible violation of the Brown Act, which prohibits a legislative body from even discussing issues under the subject matter jurisdiction of the body. I forwarded the screen shots to an attorney who specializes in these matters and was told that while the closed forum may not violate the serial meeting provision of the Brown Act, it is in dangerous territory. “Most often this type of meeting is conducted through a series of communications by individual members or less-than-a-quorum group, ultimately involving a majority of the body’s members.”

“The Attorney General recommends that it’s better to not participate in these types of forums,” the attorney explained. These discussions have to be properly noticed and held in public. Today the Moreno Valley Planning Commission will hold its first public hearing on the WLC project.

Moreno Valley has had its share of allegations of corruption and more than its share of recall elections to attempt to address the corruption and perceived fraudulent conduct of its council members. This week’s actions of recalls and counter-recalls are concerning to me and illustrative of the level of dysfunction that continues to plague the city. There is quite a long way to go before we see a level of “decency” that will allow Moreno Valley to really soar. #commondecencyUSA

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