State of the Town: Councilors talk Apple Valley’s highs and lows during annual event August 20, 2021

Apple Valley Mayor Curt Emick told attendees at the annual State of the Town luncheon that now is the time for the community celebrate after a year of COVID-19-related shutdowns.

Hosted by the Greater High Desert Chamber of Commerce, the luncheon took place Wednesday in a conference center at Town Hall, where Emick and his colleagues on the Town Council shared how Apple Valley persevered amid the pandemic.

Town Council members also reviewed recent accomplishments, unveiled future projects and addressed a few lowlights — namely Apple Valley’s civil court loss in its attempt to take a local water system by eminent domain.

Ruling favors Liberty Utilities

Apple Valley Town Manager Doug Robertson speaks during the annual State of the Town event on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Despite a tentative ruling against Apple Valley in its right-to-take trial against water provider Liberty Utilities — as well as litigation costs estimated at $8.5 million — Town Manager Doug Robertson said the Town Council ultimately made a good decision in pursuing the action.

Robertson told Wednesday’s crowd that any public agency would find it impossible to meet the standards San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez expected in the case.

One thing that is more offensive to me personally — speaking just personally, of course — is that he could have — if this was actually his ruling on the law, he could have made that ruling before the trial ever happened to meet that standard rather than affecting it, Robertson said.

In a tentative ruling in May, Alvarez found that Liberty had disproven the town’s arguments that its ownership of the system was a necessity and in the public’s interest, the Daily Press reported.

Town spokesperson Orlando Acevedo told the Daily Press the judge expected the town to have information about Liberty’s system before filing that Acevedo said wasn’t attainable except through the course of gathering evidence via court order.

If that was the standard, the case could have ended during pretrial motions, according to Acevedo.

Robertson said he doesn’t expect Alvarez’s decision to change in a month or two when the final ruling is announced.

The Town Council will wait until the final decision comes out before considering further action against Liberty. In the meantime, an outside consulting firm has been hired in relation to a possible appeal, according to Robertson.

Trains, jobs, and roads

Town Councilman Art Bishop told attendees at the annual State of the Town on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, that Brightline expects to break ground on its high-speed passenger rail project from Apple Valley to Las Vegas in 2022. Councilman Art Bishop discussed several transportation projects Wednesday, including Brightline’s high-speed passenger rail line between Apple Valley to Las Vegas, which is now expected to break ground in 2022.

Brightline officials previously anticipated a 2020 groundbreaking, but they tentatively moved that date to the second quarter of this year after revising the project’s financial plan, the Daily Press reported in January.

Bishop said he traveled to Las Vegas this summer after the company announced it acquired a 110-acre parcel there for a 65,000-square-foot train terminal.

Locally, a Brightline train station and maintenance facility are expected east of Interstate 15 and south of Dale Evans Parkway, just north of Bell Mountain.

The project will generate over 10,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs here in Apple Valley, Bishop said, adding that the project will draw commercial and residential development to the area.

In 2020, Brightline entered into a lease agreement with Caltrans to use the existing right of way along the I-15 for construction of nearly 170 miles of track. The trains are expected to reach top speeds of 200 mph, the Daily Press reported.

Bishop said the town’s annexation of over 1,400 acres near the freeway in north Apple Valley has drawn interest from industrial and commercial developers, as well.

Land within the town’s North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan is already home to a Big Lots Distribution Center, which opened in 2020; the Walmart Distribution Center; and the Regional Public Safety Training Center.

The Fresenius Medical Care Distribution warehouse, which offers delivery of dialysis solution to home patients, is also located in the NAVISP.

As for road infrastructure projects in Apple Valley, Bishop touted the reconstruction of Highway 18 at its intersection with Apple Valley Road, which he said is more than halfway done.

The nearly $10 million endeavor will widen a portion of Highway 18 from four to six lanes, realign Apple Valley Road at the highway, replace traffic signals and add new bike lanes, curbs, gutters and sidewalks along portions of the highway and Wika Road.

Bishop said the project is scheduled for a December completion.

The town plans to rehabilitate the Bear Valley Road bridge over the Mojave River, Bishop said, adding a caveat: Once funding is secure. Please pray with me.

Other planned transportation improvements include the widening of Stoddard Wells Road from Interstate 15 to Johnson Road and the resurfacing of 35 miles of roadway throughout the town.

Measure O failure and St. Mary closure

Scott Nassif, the longest-serving member on the Town Council, tackled two of Apple Valley’s recent struggles, including last year’s failed 1% tax increase measure, which he described as a severe blow.

In November, more than 66% of voters opposed Measure O, which town officials said would have generated $6 to $7 million in additional revenue meant to help shore up Apple Valley’s general fund reserve, add sheriff’s deputies, improve parks, and preserve community events and recreation programs.

The failed measure led to the town temporarily closing the Civic Center Park Aquatic Center and its Distance-Learning Day Camp, which was developed in response to the pandemic, the Daily Press reported.

Town officials also instituted a hiring freeze and left three open jobs vacant. Town spokesperson Orlando Acevedo said at the time that the positions were in the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.

The town also halted an after-school activities program funded in partnership with the Apple Valley Unified School District.

Before making more drastic cuts, residents asked the Town Council to revisit its financial status, which led to the formation of a 15-member Citizens Budget Advisory Committee in January, Nassif said.

The committee eventually recommended a list of suggested budget priorities, which included a special/general tax measure on a future ballot; improving the Hilltop House and Horsemen’s Center Park to generate tourism; and altering operations at the Apple Valley Golf Course.

Acevedo told the Daily Press on Thursday that implementing the recommendations remains an ongoing process.

The list of least-recommended priorities included reducing recreation programs and events, ending the town’s subsidizing of parks and recreation via the general fund and canceling the town’s contract with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Several people in the audience groaned when Nassif said the 65-year-old Providence St. Mary Medical Center — the town’s only hospital — would close by 2028.

In June, Providence Southern California announced a proposed partnership with Kaiser Permanente to build a 260-bed hospital on Amargosa Road in Victorville. The move would shutter St. Mary; however, Providence officials have not said when because the Victorville facility still requires regulatory approval.

Nassif, who serves on the St. Mary Medical Center Foundation, has been outspoken about losing emergency-care services in Apple Valley, but the Town Council is working on a letter in support of the Providence-Kaiser partnership — albeit with concerns over St. Mary included.

Nassif said the Town Council will next discuss the potential closure at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 24. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.

’The music will play’

Apple Valley gained significant exposure in 2021 thanks to the success of local singer-songwriter Chayce Beckham, who won American Idol in May.

Mayor Pro Tem Kari Leon recounted Beckham’s return to Apple Valley just before his big win, a day that included two performances — one at at Vanguard Preparatory School and a private concert at Horsemen’s Center Park.

Stay tuned. We are working to bring Chayce back home to perform to a much larger crowd, Leon said. The music will play.

Born at Victor Valley Global Medical Center, Beckham’s spent his childhood living in Victorville, Hesperia and Apple Valley, he told the Daily Press.

Before he became an Idol champion, Beckham worked as a heavy machinery operator and sang in the reggae band Sinking Sailors. His bandmates reunited to back him during the Horsemen’s Center concert.

Beckham’s hit single, 23, released a couple weeks before he won Idol in May, has more than 5.5 million listens on Spotify.

Town services

Councilman Larry Cusack said the Animal Services Department received 20,548 visitors to its shelter last year — all while staff there worked in a limited capacity due to the pandemic.

Shelter staff assisted in 4,200 calls for service, licensed more than 10,000 dogs, microchipped 2,100 animals, administered 5,180 vaccinations and handed out 500 spay/neuter vouchers, Cusack said.

Through the Code Enforcement Department, town staff followed up on 2,540 cases of illegal dumping, collected 734,000 pounds of dumped trash and 2,412 used tires.

We also partnered with our Apple Valley Police Department to create a multiple enforcement team — made up of two deputies — to offer homeless resources and to ensure enforcement, Cusack said.

The enforcement team also followed up on numerous illegal marijuana cultivations, which Cusack called a growing issue in our region and state.

Sheriff’s deputies in Apple Valley responded 69,633 calls for service in 2020, a number Cusack said represented a small drop over 2019’s figures.

The Public Works Department, meanwhile, cleaned up a homeless encampment that had become hazardous. Workers also cleaned 29 miles of sewer, swept 810 miles of curbing, filled 18,000 potholes and replaced 610 street name and roadway signs, according to Cusack.

Source: Rene Ray De La Cruz, Daily Press