The Power of Trust and Transparency
Janice Rutherford was re-elected June 5th to continue as Supervisor representing San Bernardino County’s Second District.
The Second District includes the cities of Upland, Rancho Cucamonga and large swaths of Fontana in addition to the unincorporated communities of Devore, Lytle Creek, San Antonio Heights, Mt. Baldy and
all of the Rim of the World mountain communities from Cedarpines Park to Green Valley Lake.
Originally elected to San Bernardino County’s Board of Supervisors in 2010, Rutherford stepped into the role with years of local government experience having served on the Fontana City Council for a decade.
When Rutherford was first elected the Board of Supervisors was struggling to regain the confidence of voters after years of corruption scandals that left its reputation in tatters and the confidence of constituents, deeply shaken. Rutherford joined the board and set to work to help change its culture.
When asked about her recent re-election Rutherford shared her thoughts about why she believes voters continue to support her.
“We have successfully changed the culture of county government so that there is a basic element of trust by the people again. Before I got here in 2010,” she continued, “It had devolved to the point where people believed that if you just wrote a big enough check, you could get what you wanted.”
Rutherford pointed to how things have changed. “I think there is a clear understanding now, that it is not a ‘pay-to-play’ system.” She noted how the Board has procedures in place now that must be respected and
that help assure things are done both transparently and ethically.
“It’s constant vigilance,” she stressed. “It is not the kind of thing where you want to say, ‘mission accomplished.’ The pressures of evil remain, and we have to keep fighting against them.”
Rutherford also credits her re-election success to the focus she maintains on the unincorporated communities in her district and shared how she does this to help remind everyone that county government exists in part to serve residents who do not have a city to turn to.
Although Rutherford won re-election by a comfortable margin, she was unexpectedly challenged in the recent primary by Assemblyman Marc Steinorth who represents California’s 40th Assembly District.
“It was very much a surprise,” she stated when asked about the Steinorth challenge. “We had been political allies. I had supported his election. I knocked on doors for him two years ago. So, I was quite shocked that he would pivot to run against me.”
Regardless of their previous relationship, Rutherford said she takes every challenge seriously. “This is our system. Our system is designed to put two people in the arena and have them fight it out. So, I respect any challenger who steps into that arena. He (Steinorth) was certainly daunting because he had high name identification and a decent reputation as our assemblyman.”
Rutherford said Steinorth’s entry in the race changed her approach to the primary. “Despite his reputation for being a decent assemblyman, he turned out to be a down and dirty, vicious, nasty and ugly campaigner. He was very much supported by those folks who would prefer things be done in the old nontransparent way—those folks don’t like me very much,” she admitted.
With the primary election safely behind her and her seat on the board secured, Rutherford remains focused on several priorities that will have near-term impact on her constituents. A major priority remains the rehabilitation of the Lake Gregory Dam infrastructure to bring it into compliance with the seismic standards outlined by the California Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams.
In addition to the dam itself, Rutherford is also focused on what she described as, the rebuilding, both physically and metaphorically, of lake Gregory itself including the park and the local economy. “Just being able to set that on a path of progress will be important, she stressed.
Rutherford then moved to an issue that was extensively debated during the June 12 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. “It’s complex, but a very big deal,” she asserted. “The county fire district is not sustaining itself financially,” she stated and continued. “Right now, it gets about $18 million in funding from the county’s general fund and then it’s using about $12 million in reserves and one-time funding to make its budget this year.”
After noting the combined $30 million shortfall she continued. “On top of that, the firefighters believe they need another $30 million dollars to provide adequate services.” As a result, the shortfall is more like $60 million dollars.
According to Rutherford, the fire district has asked the board to begin a process of annexation. Under this agreement, all the rest of the unincorporated areas in the county that are not a part of another fire district will be annexed to county fire and every property owner in those areas will be charged a $157 annual parcel fee on top of existing property taxes. That fee will go directly to the county fire district.
According to Rutherford, the process will be run through the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). LAFCO is a state-mandated local agency that oversees the boundaries of cities and special districts and evaluates delivery of services that special districts provide that are paid for by taxpayers.
If taxpayers disagree with the proposed change, which would require them to pay the additional fee for
county fire service each year, they can demand an opportunity to vote on it but only by first registering a
“protest” vote. It is the only way to try and insure the measure is included on the ballot and in the process,
give voters a voice and a choice on this issue.
The protest ballot process is an outgrowth of Proposition 218. Passed in 1996, Proposition 218 is the
state constitutional amendment that mandates how government entities must engage constituents when it
wants to raise property-based assessments in California like the proposed county fire district annexation and fee.
If at least 25 percent of those who will be impacted by the proposed change file written protests to the annexation and fee, then the measure would go to the ballot for everyone to vote on. If not, it is a done deal unless of course, more than 50 percent of those impacted file protest votes. In that case, the initiative effort would end.
In recent months, the Upland City Council on behalf of their voters, asked to be annexed into the San
Bernardino County Fire District. That measure went to LAFCO and when LAFCO granted it, the agency also included the unincorporated community of San Antonio Heights in the process.
“I represent San Antonio Heights and I am only an alternate to LAFCO,” Rutherford explained. “I was not slated to be at the (LAFCO) meeting when the vote happened and as a result, I did not get to vote on the item.”
She continued, “LAFCO included San Antonio Heights in the Upland annexation and the outrage from that community at having only a protest vote was overwhelming.” Despite the outrage however, Rutherford noted that only 13 percent of those impacted actually filed protests ballots against it. “This
protest issue is huge,” she stressed.
At the June 12 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the annexation measure moved forward on a vote of three to two. Rutherford said she opposed the measure and argued that it should be an affirmative vote.
“People should have the right to vote on a tax increase like this.”
She went on to explain how the annexation process is being further complicated by an initiative currently in the signature gathering phase that would disallow the protest process described above by requiring every such action to go to a ballot. The initiative also includes a retroactivity clause that would basically undo any such ballot measures passed between January 2018, and the time the proposed initiative is approved by voters.
According to Rutherford, if the initiative works its way through the process and becomes law, the county’s fire district annexation would get caught up in it. “Certainly, it will be challenged for the constitutionality of retroactivity–which means,” she shared, “we may have just put ourselves at the front line of that legal battle.”
Rutherford pointed again to how incredibly complicated the effort is. “At the heart of all this,” she
stressed, “is a discussion that we need to have in our county about what level of services our tax payers are willing to pay for.”
“That’s what we get down to here,” she added. “This is going to be an exercise in showing people—‘If you pay this amount of money, this is the level of emergency service you will receive. If you don’t want to pay this amount of money, this is the level of service you will receive.’ And then, it is a straight forward decision for people to make.”
Rutherford noted how communities like Upland, San Antonio Heights, and the City of San Bernardino are already annexed into the county fire district. “Upland and San Bernardino did so because they were in dire financial situations. Other areas in the county who already pay into a fire district will not be impacted
by this change. Most unincorporated communities like most in the mountain region do not. The mountain community of Crestline is the only exception because it is already being served by San Bernardino County Fire. For additional information on this issue review item 124 on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors June 12 meeting agenda.
Among the plethora of other issues Rutherford is focused on this term includes a focus on taking a real
look at how the county overall can be better at providing social services and moving people to selfsufficiency.
“We’ve under-taken something called the ‘Launch Initiative’ which is a collaboration between the county, the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, and Loma Linda University.”
The initiative is studying some specific and innovative ways of helping families who are economically disadvantaged by providing them some appropriate training classes and counseling, in addition to the financial assistance they receive from the government.
According to Rutherford, the initiative should help decision makers determine whether this type of support works. Does it help? “If you do specific job training for the adults in the household can they then turn that into self-sufficiency? If you do some extra tutoring for the kids, does that then help them overcome the disadvantages of poverty and succeed more in school? Does it lead to better economic outcomes for them?” The initiative is trying to study all these things. “The effort is funded by the Irvine Foundation and I am eager to begin looking at the data evidence coming out and seeing if there are lessons that we can take to scale.”
Rutherford willingly shared her thoughts on other issues impacting the community. Regarding the future of water in the region she noted how water in California is governed by the state and then managed by independent public and private water agencies and stressed how in order to assure understanding of water’s critical role in the region, “We got all of our water purveyors and interested parties together and did the first water inventory in order to really understand where water is and where it will be available, so that the folks who make those decisions can use that data to make smarter decisions.”
She highlighted how the Board of Supervisors took a similar approach to education. “Everybody lists itas their highest priority issue and yet, the county has no direct role in education, but we’ve gotten all the schools, colleges and universities, interested businesses and the economic sector together and we have conversations about what kinds of training should be provided for the jobs they are going to be offering in ten years.”
From there it must be determined, “How do we provide that training? Is it through the schools themselves? Is it through some sort of partnership?” According to Rutherford, community colleges in the county are working with the private sector to develop programs to address such needs.
According to Rutherford, actions like the Launch Initiative and approaches to education are coming out of conversations, not through any direct line of authority but through relationships and direct conversations.
Rutherford believes having an environment where people trust in the transparency and values of the people in elected offices is essential. “Unless you have that,” she affirmed, “you are not going to be able to build the relationships and have the conversations that lead to these sorts of outcomes. It is all intertwined.”
To keep abreast of Rutherford’s activities in San Bernardino County’s Second District visit http://www.sbcounty.gov/bosd2/.