Bill Postmus
October 7, 2009

There have been so many questions of late as to the appropriateness of the Colonies decision that the County of San Bernardino settled out of court in 2006.

I have been reluctant to address or re-state the facts of the case over the past several months as I have focused on other matters.

But, with so much misinformation being disseminated in the press and with all the rumor-mongering, I cannot remain silent any longer.

It is time to set the record straight.

The decision resolved a long-simmering feud between Colonies Partners, L.P., a local developer, and the County. The lawsuit was only settled after years of discussions, depositions, evidence gathering, and presentations before a judge.

The plaintiffs were very successful in making their case. Both trials resulted in scathing rulings against the county, with the second worst than the previous. In fact, the plaintiffs were so successful that the second jurist hearing the case strongly recommended the County reach an agreement with the plaintiffs.

Before the County authorized a settlement, the plaintiffs had achieved two victories in San Bernardino County Superior Court, the first in 2004 and the second in 2006. Both decisions were rendered by two different judges.

Had San Bernardino County continued its case in court against the plaintiffs, it was likely that an award could have been reached in the developers’ favor upwards of $300 million. That figure represented what I believed was an unacceptable risk for county taxpayers.

Internal and outside legal counsel opposed any settlement. County attorneys steadfastly told my fellow board members and I that we the county had a strong case, while racking up more than $7 million in legal fees from the county alone.

With the motivation of safeguarding the interests of taxpayers, a majority of the board of supervisors – myself included – voted to settle the case for $102 million. One of my colleagues at the time, Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales, supported an all-cash settlement of $102 million in a closed session mediation vote on November 1, 2006. Third District Supervisor Dennis Hansberger was not present.

A couple weeks later Supervisor Gonzales reversed her vote joining Supervisor Hansberger in opposition, thus making the final tally to approve the settlement 3-2, with Supervisors Biane, Ovitt, and myself voting in the affirmative.

This decision put an end to a saga that had dragged on for far too long and threatened to cost the County even more than the settlement. To allow the damages to escalate would have been irresponsible.

Both sides agreed that it was a fair settlement. A judge upheld the decision and taxpayers can rest assured that it was entered into with their best interest in mind. In fact, a retired California State Supreme Court justice, Edward Panelli, gave a stamp of approval on the proposed settlement before final approval. Panelli was retained by both sides to assist in the settlement process.

Let me state something and let me be crystal clear: There was no undue influence exhibited toward me in reaching this settlement. There was no inappropriate pressure to settle from any of the parties involved. There was no attempt to sway my vote. Any rumors suggesting otherwise are just that – rumors.

Too many individuals have been hurt by all of the reckless innuendo.

I decided to support the settlement because it was the right decision for the County. I was joined by two of my colleagues who, like me, continue to describe this settlement as being in the best interest of the taxpayers.

It pained me, as a trustee of the people of San Bernardino County, to agree to such a large settlement. But the only alternative would have very likely cost the citizens hundreds of millions of dollars more – perhaps three times as much. Sadly, only a couple years earlier, this lawsuit could have been settled for a third of the final settlement amount.

As a result of the plaintiff’s repeated successes in court, there were simply no other options for the Board of Supervisors to choose.

Hopefully, residents will accept the reasoning of San Bernardino County in approving this settlement. It was approved with the interests of residents in mind.

To put it simply, this was an difficult decision to reach, but the best one that could have been made for County taxpayers given the circumstances.