With elected officials set to make a decision on the future of the 43-acre downtown site this week, Councilman Ben Reynoso said that before he took office in December, Mayor John Valdivia showed him an eight-minute video promoting the work of Shanghai Conglomerate Group America.
During a contentious, 90-minute special meeting last Wednesday some San Bernardino City Council members questioned Mayor Valdivia’s alleged dealings with one of two developers pursuing a contract to overhaul the Carousel Mall property.
Reynoso said that the mayor told him the Garden Grove firm “builds bridges overnight.” Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin, who also took office late last year, said she too was shown the promotional video, three times.
In December 2019, SCG America and the team of Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO Real Estate Group were commissioned to submit comprehensive plans to overhaul the former gemstone of the city’s entertainment corridor. The two developers presented their proposals to the City Council Jan. 27.
Calvin urged city officials and city counsel to investigate SCG America and its subsidiaries for any connections to San Bernardino leaders. She noted that a subsidiary of the firm was involved in a wide-ranging pay-to-play scheme in Los Angeles, where developers bribed city leaders to secure official acts to benefit their real estate projects.
“We need to further investigate developers or anyone else when that information is brought to us,” said Calvin, who also revealed Wednesday that an SCG America representative had obtained her personal cellphone number and contacted her following the Jan. 27 meeting.
Reynoso said the same happened to him.
Mayor Denies Allegations, May Request Investigation
Valdivia rebutted all allegations in a statement on Thursday and said he is filing a formal request for an investigation with the Public Integrity Unit of the District Attorney’s Office and removing Calvin from all mayor-appointed positions effective immediately.
“As our new Mayor, I have fought hard for the residents of San Bernardino and worked to rebuild our city’s economy and quality of life,” his statement said. “Unfortunately, Councilmember Calvin, aided by a handful of City Hall insiders, is refusing to move our city forward.”
Calvin said she has a “responsibility to all residents to do the right thing and call out issues when they arise.”
“Why must there be retaliation for enlightening the people who are due transparency, accountability and justice?” she said.
At the outset of the special meeting, Councilman Fred Shorett mentioned that he, his council colleagues and city officials had received an email just before the web conference started that was “legal in nature” and concerned him about potential litigation should discussion continue. While Shorett did not say who sent the email, Carvalho later noted it was the mayor’s attorney.
Councilman Fred Shorett eventually moved to adjourn the meeting, but before a vote to do so was called, Councilman Theodore Sanchez said many of the potential conflicts of interest up for discussion Wednesday stemmed from the city’s lax campaign finance rules.
“This gem of a project we have in the Carousel Mall,” Sanchez continued, “we’re lucky to do this now, and it’s all been spoiled by zealous fundraisers who saw an opportunity to raise tens of thousands of dollars from special interests while these developers are trying to come through the door.”
Council Member Concerned for Complicity
Reynoso, who took office Dec. 16, said that after Valdivia showed him the SCG America video, he stopped meeting with him one-on-one “because I felt as though I may become eventually complicit in something I’m not aware of right now.”
“The conflict of interest is when you’re not showing everybody’s video,” Calvin told Valdivia Wednesday. “You only showed one. If you wanted me to have an impartial view of the two developers we have narrowed ourselves down to, then you would have showed me (videos for) both.
Reynoso ultimately suggested the city reopen the bidding process for the Carousel Mall project. But after some discussion, council members Sandra Ibarra and Damon Alexander joined Sanchez, Shorett and Calvin in opting to wait until March 3 to decide whether to choose a developer or start over.
“We don’t have to vote in favor or against,” Shorett said, “but let’s let the process play out.” Councilman Juan Figueroa and Reynoso opposed.
Following the vote, Valdivia attempted to address the allegations against him, but a motion to adjourn had taken precedence.
After some back and forth, the mayor said he would adjourn the conference unilaterally and left.
The council subsequently voted to conclude the meeting.
“I find myself disheartened by what I see,” Alexander said earlier in the evening. “Not by what I hear, but what I see. We all want to do what’s best for San Bernardino, I believe. That’s why I’m here. I want the city to move forward. If there’s any investigation, by all means, let’s conduct one.
“I was always trained to praise in public and criticize in private,” he added. “We all are losing here. This is not a winning situation, for any of us.”