CLAIM AGAINST THE CITY OF MORENO VALLEY
CLAIMANT- ANNE SCHNEIDER
The following narrative contains information responsive to Sections 3; 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10:
I began my employment at the City of Moreno Valley in July 2010. Immediately after I began my employment; I was pressured to issue a “foundation only” building permit for the Skechers project being built by Highland Fairview and Iddo Benzeevi. After action by the City Council directing approval of a foundation only permit, I issued the permit on or about July 15, 2010. The Building Code requires that a building permit be issued only if the proposed project is in compliance with the codes at the time of permit issuance.
This project was not in compliance. The reason it was not in compliance was because the property on which they wished to build consisted of multiple lots under common ownership. The property was later merged with a parcel map creating a single lot for construction of the project in or about August 2010. At the time the permit was issued the building construction plans did not address the construction requirements for a building with construction crossing property lines. The construction was completed under the supervision of Dale Brose, Building Inspector II. The project was a source of conflict on a nearly daily basis because of requests to approve deviations in normal process or proceed in violation of Building Code requirements and contrary to policy and/or best practices for construction projects. Barry Foster repeatedly contacted me and my staff to request that items that were not approved be approved without correction and other violations.
Prior to my arrival at the City an enforcement case was initiated under the previous building official, Gary Kyle (retired) against Marcelo Co for violations at 25164 Atwood. The case was opened when Ron Weilin, (retired) Building Inspector noted that, visible from the public street, there was a large metal building, that based on research of City records, was constructed without permits. Although the case was opened based on the observation from the street, the property was not inspected by the City until in or about May 2011.
Mr. Co had initiated a Planning Application to attempt to legalize the construction at the Atwood property. That application was eventually approved by Planning and set specific conditions of approval that were required for the final approval of the construction by Building & Safety. The documents provided to Planning identified many areas of illegal construction besides the metal building that was the subject of the original complaint. This un-permitted construction was revealed by Co even though the city did not have
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specific information about the other illegal structures. After my arrival I did use the City GIS system to observe that the plans provided to the Planning Department were not accurate and did not properly reflect the construction as shown on the aerial photography in the City’s GIS system (photos dated in 2008). For several months through about December 2010 a series of plans were submitted to document the construction that existed. The information provided was not accurate and was rejected repeatedly for incomplete and inaccurate information.
In or about August 2010 Marcel Co filled papers and began a nm for City Council. In or about November 20 I 0, he won election to District 3, which was not the location of the Atwood residence. That residence had been Co’s primary home up until he filed for his council run in District 3. Evidence exists that Co used the Atwood property as his home, his personal business office, managed his rental properties and managed, stored and ran a commercial business from the Atwood property.
Over the course of the next few months the scope of the project that Councilman Co attempted to have approved changed repeatedly. As an example, Co provided construction plans from a firm in North Dakota for the construction of the metal building that was initially the subject of the complaint. These plans clearly showed that the engineering design of the building did not meet the minimum Building Code requirements for California.
The metal building that was the subject of the original complaint eventually was completely removed in or about 2012. At the last inspection of the property, from the public street and the access easement to the west of the Atwood property, all the construction that eventually was included in the prosecution of Councilman Co had been removed. The probation violation that was recorded in or about January 2013 was for failure to remove the construction debris generated from the demolition of the illegal construction from the subject property and an adjacent property also owned by Councilman Co (formerly his mother’s home).
Beginning when I was hired by the City, Mr. Co was abusive, lied and threatened me and my staff and other City employees. Four specific complaints were brought to my attention and as result of those complaints; I took over handling all contact with Councilman Co personally to shield my staff and other City employees from further abuse and harassment. I believe it is my responsibility to mitigate any harassment of my employees as their supervisor. Since it was not possible for them to avoid contact with Councilman Co, I felt it was important that their contact be limited. They were directed to call me any time he contacted the City for processing his applications for the various building permits
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he needed to resolve the criminal complaint.
After Co’s election to City Council, the prosecution of the case was eventually transferred to the District Attorney’s Office. Prior to that transfer, I worked closely with Paul Early to determine the scope of the violations at the Atwood property. In addition, Paul Early requested that I determine if any other properties owned by Co had outstanding violations. I reviewed an extensive list of previous violation cases, and found two unresolved, at two rental homes, one located on Kitching and one on Perris Boulevard. Both involved additions to the homes without permits or approvals. Both additions were eventually completely removed because he could not obtain permits for the construction without removing the entire structure and pouring a new foundation, then rebuilding the entire addition.
The work that had been performed was dangerous and substandard. I believe both cases were opened by Glenn Waggoner, (retired) Housing Inspector. Glenn was primarily responsible for pursuing cases for violations that related to property maintenance at rental properties.
In or about April of2011 Barry Foster asked me if there was a way to have someone else inspect Co’s properties so the focus of the abuse by Co could be shifted away from staff. I was able to assign the inspection of the property to James Barrett of Willdan as an inspection to Support the “plan check” process that was on going. Councilman Co’s attorney, Michael Geller, had been complaining to Barry Foster that he didn’t want to have a “moving target” for the scope of violations at the Atwood property as he felt he didn’t have complete, precise information about the nature of the violations at the property. I informed Barry Foster that we had never been on the propel1y at Atwood and that the cases at Perris Blvd. and Kitching were from as long ago as 1996.
Paul Early and I arranged with Attorney Geller to inspect the Atwood property in or about May 2011. The inspection was attended by Attorney Geller and local engineer, Dave Slawson. Jim Barrett and Ron Espalin from Willdan, Lauren Dossey from the DA’s office, and me. Two employees of Mr. Co were also present and provided access into the structures. The inspection took several hours and resulted in a detailed report from Willdan.
In or about summer 2011 the City initiated a management audit of the Land Development Division, which at that time was under the supervision of the Public Works Department run by the City Engineer, Chris Vogt. The audit was believed to be specifically directed at getting the Land Development Division under the supervision of Barry Foster so he could threaten the manager, Mark Sambito, with requests to approve processes or to
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proceed with construction in violation of Municipal Code requirements and policy/ best practices for construction projects. It was also widely believed that the audit was done to coerce Mark Sambito to treat the Skechers project more favorably and relax the efforts to insist upon compliance with codes and standards for Highland Fairview and Iddo Benzeevi.
The results of the audit were presented to the City Council and used to embarrass Chris Vogt. Land was eventually moved under Mr. Foster and he behaved similarly with Mark Sambito, trying to get him to approve work that was not correct through coercion and veiled threats. The audit was conducted by Tom DeSantis prior to his employment by the City as the HR Director. After he finished the Land Division audit, Tom conducted a similar audit of the Planning and Building & Safety Divisions. That audit is the only evaluation that I have received of my performance and operation of the division since my initial evaluation that was performed by Kyle Kollar in December 2010 to conclude my initial probation period when I was hired by the City.
These audits (Planning & B&S) were not presented publicly and it took several months for me to receive a copy of the documents. The report was favorable and disclosed the limitations that previous staffing and budget reductions placed on further improvements to the Division.
The prosecution of Co took place in or about September 20 II and resulted in a conviction. The terms of probation that were imposed were based on a detailed list of measures to be taken that I prepared based on the inspections conducted by Willdan. The list required compliance with all terms of probation within 120 days. Beginning at the 30 day mark and every thirty days thereafter I conducted a drive by inspection of the properties and review of the city records to determine if compliance had been achieved for any items in the probation. These reports were prepared in writing in anticipation of a request for status from Lauren Dossey. The final report in January 2012 (120 days) showed that the majority of the items had not been resolved.
Periodically over the next twelve months I prepared updates of the status of the terms of probation which I provided to Paul Early. He would then in-turn forwarded the reports to Lauren Dossey.
In or about December 2012, I spoke with Paul Early and he advised that the last and final continuance for the Co case had been granted and that the case must be resolved by the hearing in January 2013. A meeting was conducted between Attorney Geller, Barry Foster, Laruen Dossey and me. During that meeting the outstanding items from the probation terms were reviewed in detail. There were several statements made by
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Attorney Geller that were augmentative but I did not respond to his misstatements and incorrect information. During the meeting I made a point of identifying to Lauren that the pictures I had provided showed a large amount of demolition debris on the adjacent property at Atwood. Lauren stated explicitly to Attorney Geller that Co could not create a new violation case on the adjacent property and he could not just move the debris from the subject site to the neighboring site to avoid compliance at the primary Atwood site.
After the meeting I asked Lauren Dossey to step into Paul Early’s office and we briefly discussed the meeting, some of the incorrect information that Geller stated and Barry Foster’s pressure to make this go away. Barry Foster has repeatedly and specifically said this needs to go away. He never offered to provide the information to Lauren Dossey and I only provided accurate correct information to Lauren Dossey.
As the January hearing date approached, Barry Foster took to stating that “we” weren’t going to worry about any new violations, that the debris on the adjacent property was not relevant and that “we” would only include that violation if we received a new complaint about the debris.
On or about January 7, 2013 I left the office to conduct a series of inspections of various properties, including a last inspection of Co’s Atwood property. When I drove by his property to take pictures it appears that Co noted my presence and followed me to my next inspection and confronted me before I could get out of my car to conduct an inspection of a building damaged by a vehicle accident. He was hostile, aggressive and tried to intimidate me. He asked a series of questions about what I was doing and why I was at his property. I informed him that I was doing my regular inspection of his property to provide an update to Lauren Dossey. After he left I conducted my inspection at the property at Cottonwood and Perris and returned to the office.
I immediately prepared the pictures for my report to Lauren Dossey and forwarded those pictures to Paul Early. I advised him that I would prepare the narrative later but that I wanted him to have copies of the pictures. I was uncomfortable with the confrontation by Co and was concerned that I would be forbidden/prevented from providing my report and wanted someone else to have the photos. At approximately 4:20 pm on Wednesday January 23, 2013, I received a voice mail message from Lauren Dossey, Assistant Deputy District Attorney of Riverside County. In her message she requested that I contact her and provide her with a status update regarding the code violation at Councilman Co’s property for her hearing on Thursday, January 24. After listening to her message I called Deputy City Attorney Paul Early and inquired if he had sent the photographs that I had previously provided to him by email, documenting the condition of the property at that time, to Lauren. He indicated that he
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had not yet done that and asked why. I told him that Lauren had requested an update and that I would like him to provide those pictures to Lauren. He agreed to forward the email and we ended our conversation.
I returned the call to ADDA Dossey and asked what she needed. She stated that she had heard that all violations were resolved and wanted to confirm. I advised her that the building code issues were completed and the trash & debris issue on the subject property and the adjacent property also owned by Councilman Co still contained material that was not acceptable. I described the material on the subject property as construction material, wood and debris and on the adjacent property such things as toilets, cabinets, a fireplace and various other materials. She asked for clarification and remarked “the demolition debris is still there?” to which I replied yes. I do not recall if I informed her that DCA Early would be sending the email discussed previously. I indicated to Lauren that I expected that my boss would contact her with an update and that his information might be different and he might provide direction. She thanked me and hung up.
I contacted my supervisor Mr. Barry Foster by email and advised him that ADDA Dossey was expecting a status update for him for the hearing Thursday. I provided him with her direct phone number and her email address. He replied by email a short time later than he had reached her voice mail.
Just before 5pm I received a phone call from the CCICA conference room phone. Deputy City Attorney Paul Early asked me to come to the conference room to speak with him. No other information was provided. When J reached the door to the conference room I knocked, opened the door and entered. In the conference room I found Interim City Attorney Suzanne Bryant, DCA Early and Mayor Tom Owings. Mayor Owings introduced himself to me and shook my hand. I sat at the end of the table nearest the door.
Mayor Owings proceeded to ask a series of questions about conversations I might have had with the ADDA and Mr. Foster. He inquired who the ADDA was to which I replied “Lauren Dossey”. He asked if I had contacted her and I replied that she had contacted me asking for an update on the status of Councilman Co’s case. He asked if l provided an update and if l asked DCA Early to send an email. I indicated that I did ask for the email to be sent and that I had been providing status updates to the ADDA for 18 months. He asked what was included in the status reports and I indicated that the report included the status of the code violations at the properties. He asked if I had a conversation with Mr. Foster about the status to which I replied yes. He inquired when the conversation took place and I replied within the last two weeks but I couldn’t remember a specific event or conversation. He asked for specifics and I told him I didn’t recall a specific and that I
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spoke with Mr. Foster daily. He asked when 1 spoke with ADDA Dossey and I told him that I received a call from her today about 4:15. He asked if I was aware of conversations between Mr. Foster and Councilman Co’s attorney Michael Geller. I replied that I did not know about those conversations and that I was not a part of those discussions.
After I left the conference room I returned to my desk and sent an email immediately to Mr. Foster advising him that I had been called into a meeting with the Mayor about Councilman Co’s property.
I received and returned a series of phone calls from Mr. Foster and at approximately 6:20 pm I spoke to him by cell phone. He wanted to know what was discussed and I provided him with a brief outline of the conversation. I advised him that ADDA Dossey was expecting to hear from him regarding the status of the property and the code violations. He acknowledged the information and hung up.
In February 2013 I was interviewed about the events of 1123/13 with Mayor Owings. I provided an account of my activities on that date and was questioned about my interaction with Co on January 7th which surprised me as it was not directly related. I followed lip the interview with an email to clarify procedures for handling enforcement cases to provide context for the discussion of Co’s conduct and his problems.
I received my layoff notice on March 14, 2013, the same date as Paul Early and Albert Brady.
On or about April 3, 2013 about 2 pm, I was summoned to an unscheduled meeting with Tom DeSantis, Barry Foster and Assistant City Manager Michelle Dawson. I was told by Tom that I was having trouble performing my work because I had changed my normal practice of working in my office with the door open to working with the door closed. I was told that to help me out with this difficult situation they were going to bring someone in to take over the day to day operation of the division and r could focus on any special projects that I needed to complete. I listed the preparation of the new fees schedule and programming of the new fee calculations into the permit software program would be an example of a special project. Barry asked how much time that would take and I replied 80 hours. I asked explicitly for confirmation that I was being removed from all responsibility for my staff and division operations and Barry and Tom confirmed that was true. I asked if I could give them a response on Thursday after I discussed this change of plans with my husband. They agreed and I told them I would respond by close of business on Thursday.
I left the meeting and returned to my office. I worked for about another hour, including
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having a conversation with Shaniqua Freeman regarding a similar meeting that was conducted with Dante Hall putting him on leave immediately also. I determined from that conversation that Shaniqua was contacted by Barry before Dante was contacted. Barry asked her if she could take over all of Dante’s projects and responsibilities immediately. She also indicated that the same “offer” was made to all employees who were on the layoff list.
I believe that the offer was only made to the others so I could be removed from my responsibilities, a similar “cover” as the audit that was done of Planning & B&S as cover for the targeting of the Land Division previously. I continued to insist that all projects under my authority comply with the minimum safety standards and that put me in opposition to Barry repeatedly. I opposed him on Universal Strike Bowling Alley improvements made without permits, failure to call for inspections on the Robertson’s concrete plant, extension of permits under the 2007 building code because the developer, Pacific Communities, failed to meet the terms of a written agreement executed us a precedent to extending the permits after the 2010 code become effective on 1/1/2011 and my insistence that resolution of violation cases (Co, Baca, Nandina tow service, Mo Val framing, Moreno Rose, etc.) be compliance, not dismissal.
On or about April 4, 2013 I contacted Tom DeSantis and accepted his offer to immediately go on administrative leave and left the building at 9 am. I informed my staff of why I was leaving and they helped me load my personal possessions from my office.
On or about April 11, 2013 I met after work with a select group of people from the City who asked for a chance to say goodbye. While we sat on that patio outside BJ’s on Frederick I observed Tom DeSantis, Mayor Owings and Iddo Benzeevi arrive for dinner.
I believe that the fines/citations and administrative costs incurred by the City and due for many violation cases have been waived and dismissed by Barry Foster at a cost of thousands of dollars to the City since I left the city. The waivers have been given to further Barry Foster’s as well as other public official’s development agenda. The waivers were granted despite the violations being outstanding and the property being out of compliance. The City could potentially incur additional costs for completing the resolution of these cases.
It is my opinion, based upon my observations that the City of Moreno Valley has a history of protecting public officials.
Based upon these facts, it is clear that my position was eliminated because of my insisting that the City comply with Building Codes and my complaints of statutory violations by
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City officials pursuant to Labor Code § 1102.5(b), and my refusal to commit violations of law pursuant to Labor Code § 1102.5(c).
Section 8- Damages Claimed:
As a direct and proximate cause of my termination, I have suffered lost earnings and benefits (including but not limited to CaIPERS), emotional distress, loss of reputation, and have incurred attorneys’ fees. AU in an amount in excess of $10,000.00 and subject to the unlimited civil case jurisdiction of the Superior Court.
Dated: May 13, 2013
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