Friday, August 26, 2005
STONE'S STYLE RUBS SOME WRONG WAY
By: DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer
AUGUST 18, 2005 THE CALIFORNIAN
Supervisor Jeff Stone's abrasive, confrontational style of pushing initiatives is getting him noticed, not only in Riverside County but in Sacramento.In recent weeks, the former Temecula councilman has locked horns with the county sheriff over inmates who get out of jail early, with the state's top fire official over whether a wildfire air attack base should remain in Hemet and with Sacramento lawmakers over sex-offender legislation. Every step of the way, Stone has grabbed headlines.
"He wants his name in print every day," suggested Bill Breliant, an 82-year-old Beverly Hills man who used to breed race horses in Hemet and owns 138 acres next to Hemet-Ryan Airport, the epicenter of perhaps Stone's hottest issue. "He's making news, but he's causing a lot of problems for himself. He threatens the sheriff. He threatens everybody."Others see a different county supervisor."It's nice to see somebody on the Board of Supervisors who doesn't just fall into line," said Art Cassel, a Lake Mathews-area resident who attends many board meetings. "He is willing to go out on a limb. I don't always agree with what he says, but at least he is thinking outside the box, and that is something we need in Riverside County.""He's not part of the good-old-boy network, and I like that," Cassel said.On the county board, however, one colleague ---- Supervisor Bob Buster ---- suggests that Stone's often-combative approach is unhealthy. The approach not likely to produce the results Stone wants, Buster said, and may well drive a wedge of distrust between the county and other government agencies.A state lawmaker who was targeted by Stone's attempt to censure 10 Democrats earlier this summer suggested the approach could in fact backfire."You know, we're all human beings," said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles. "There might come a moment when I might be able to repay the favor when I'm voting for something."Taking on Sacramento"
On June 21, Stone asked supervisors to issue a "vote of no confidence" for Goldberg and other Democrats on the public safety committees of the Assembly and Senate. He suggested the legislators repeatedly resisted efforts by local Republican lawmakers to keep convicted rapists behind bars for longer periods.Stone withdrew the item when it became clear he did not have the board's support."I didn't agree with him on that one," Supervisor Roy Wilson said. "You don't hit somebody over the head with a two-by-four and turn around and say, 'We need your help with this bill.'"Goldberg said she never heard of a county board censuring the Legislature."You can tell him from me that the only vote of 'no confidence' that I listen to is the one from the people of the district that I represent," Goldberg said. "I think if he wants to have an impact on legislation, he should do what every other organization does, which is to pass a resolution saying that he supports or opposes a certain bill. That's the useful thing to do. This other stuff is probably just for show."It wasn't just for show, Stone said."Yes, it certainly would have gotten some publicity," he said. "But it would have shed some light on the bills that have been killed."While it is true Goldberg and others represent specific districts, Stone said lawmakers should look out for the interests of all Californians.Besides the Legislature, Stone has been clashing with Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle and with Dale Geldert, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.Stone has expressed concern on many occasions about the 3,000 inmates annually being let out of jail before completing their sentences, to make room in Riverside County's crowded correctional system for incoming prisoners. The sheriff has proposed building large new jails and expanding existing ones, costly projects that take years. Stone has stressed cheaper alternatives, such as buying the defunct dormitory-style prison at Eagle Mountain in the eastern Riverside County desert, that he says could deliver relief in months rather than years. Doyle has maintained that Eagle Mountain's dormitory-style housing isn't adequate for holding the county's mostly violent inmate population, and that the remote location would threaten the safety of correctional officers who would be an hour from the nearest hospital.Fighting over public safetyIn July, while Doyle was on vacation, Undersheriff Neil Lingle sparred with Stone at a meeting where the supervisor unveiled his 21-page report on his suggested jail solutions, including Eagle Mountain."The undersheriff's comments ... referring to my study as a farce were improper," Stone asserted later in a three-page letter to Doyle. "The use of words like 'grandstanding' were not appropriate," he added.The letter was widely perceived among county officials as an attempt by Stone to extend an olive branch to Doyle, but the fact that copies were sent to seven newspapers raised eyebrows among the officials. Stone insisted on Friday that he was not seeking still more publicity by distributing the letter, but rather letting the public know what he was doing.Wilson, the supervisor from the Palm Springs area, said, "I wish that he and the sheriff would just sit down and work out their differences rather than fighting back and forth, which has been the M.O. lately on both sides."
Stone has been at odds with the top brass at CDF for even longer.The state agency, which provides fire protection for Riverside County under a contract, was slowly moving to shift its regional air tankers from their base at Hemet-Ryan Airport to March Air Reserve Base 15 miles to the northwest. It was a decision that was actually initiated by the Riverside County board back in 1997, albeit long before Stone arrived. Earlier this year, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger budgeted more than $8 million for the relocation, which could be completed by 2006.However, in April, three months after taking office, Stone lobbied to halt the project. He maintained the relocation would leave forested areas around Idyllwild, which is in his district, more vulnerable to a fast-moving wildfire because it would take a few extra minutes for planes to reach the mountains from March. Stone's 3rd District stretches from Temecula and Murrieta through the Menifee-French Valley area to Hemet and the San Jacinto Mountains. At the county board's urging, state officials agreed in May to take another look at whether the planes should stay at Hemet-Ryan. As the summer has dragged on, Stone has grown increasingly impatient. Stone insists the state missed a self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline for making a decision. State officials maintain they never made such a promise. A forest of letters The dispute has produced a flurry of letters between him and the state."We've had enough paper generated from the letters through the exchanges over this thing to wipe out an entire forest," quipped Michael Jarvis, a CDF spokesman in Sacramento.In the most recent one, dated Wednesday, Stone and Supervisor John Tavaglione called on area lawmakers to jump into the fray. The supervisors also questioned the CDF director's motives."We believe that the director's decision on this issue may be more politically motivated than public safety motivated," the supervisors wrote.That line brought a sharp retort Friday from Jarvis."This clearly shows a lack of knowledge on what Director Geldert has been doing on this project," Jarvis said. "Questioning his motives is not only unfair, it is irresponsible. You are talking about someone who has committed his whole life to public safety, as has the entire administration at CDF here. ... So that line is offensive."It is one thing to criticize the agency's handling of the study, he said, but quite another to attack the character of the state's stop fire official."This has taken on a nasty tone, which is very unfortunate," Jarvis said.Stone defended his sharp tone."No. 1, he (Geldert) doesn't keep his commitment to me (to deliver a report by Aug. 1)," Stone said. "It leads me to believe that he doesn't have the confidence in his staff to write a report about the efficacy of keeping the air base at Hemet-Ryan."Supervisor Buster suggested Stone should tone down his rhetoric on Hemet-Ryan and other issues, as well."We don't need to get in a fight all the time to get things done. That is self-defeating and ultimately could hurt the reputation of the county," Buster said. "I think you ought to go to great lengths to work cooperatively with your opposition first."Shaking things upStone countered that, while he has "always been a believer in diplomacy," at times one must speak out."One thing I will do, I will rattle the status quo if they are going down the path of a political solution ... and making a decision that is contrary to the best interests of this county," Stone said. "The people who elected me wanted to see someone in there who would shake things up."Still, Buster suggested Stone's confrontational way of shaking things up often does not result in all the facts being put on the table."It generates a lot of heat, but not a lot of light," Buster said.On the other hand, Wilson suggested that, for the most part, the heat radiating from Stone's seat at the county dais stems is no different than the drive and enthusiasm that each of the other supervisors roared into office with upon first being elected to the board."I appreciate Jeff's energy level and his desire to move forward," Wilson said.The veteran supervisor said the fight with CDF is being fanned into flame by sincere concern."Jeff is charging full speed ahead because many constituents in his district feel that fire service would be better served by having the air attack base down at Hemet rather than at March," Wilson said. "He is issue-driven there, not necessarily picking on CDF."Stone said he is not picking on anybody."I'm very frank," he said. "Maybe when I mention the truth people don't like that, but it doesn't mean that it is an attack. I do my best to attack issues."Contact staff writer Dave Downey at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2616, or firstname.lastname@example.org.